Importance: In neoadjuvant trials, treatment of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2)-positive breast cancers with dual HER2 blockade resulted in increased pathologic complete response (pCR) rates compared with each targeted agent alone. Amplification and/or overexpression of HER2 currently remains the only biomarker for therapeutic decisions, but it is insufficient to explain the heterogeneous response to anti-HER2 agents.
Objective: To investigate the ability of clinically and biologically relevant genes and gene signatures (GSs) measured by RNA sequencing to predict the efficacy of anti-HER2 agents.
Design, setting, and participants: The neoadjuvant NeoALTTO trial randomized 455 women with HER2-positive early-stage breast cancer to trastuzumab, lapatinib, or the combination for 6 weeks followed by the addition of weekly paclitaxel for 12 weeks, followed by 3 cycles of fluorouracil, epirubicin, and cyclophosphamide after surgery. The present substudy, which was planned in the NeoALTTO main protocol, evaluated the association of pretreatment gene expression levels defined using RNA sequencing with pCR and event-free survival (EFS).
Main outcomes and measures: Gene expression-based biomarkers using RNA sequencing were examined for their association with response to anti-HER2 therapy and long-term outcome.
Results: Sequencing data were available for 254 (56%) of the NeoALTTO participants (mean [SD] age of substudy participants, 48.8 [11.2] years). The expression of ERBB2/HER2 was the most significant predictor of pCR, followed by HER2-enriched subtype, ESR1, treatment arm, ER immunohistochemical analysis scores, Genomic Grade Index, immune, proliferation, and AKT/mTOR GSs. Adjusting for clinicopathological variables and treatment arms, ERBB2/HER2, HER2-enriched subtype, ESR1, and Genomic Grade Index remained significant. Immune GSs were associated with higher pCR only in the combination arm (odds ratio, 2.1; 95% CI, 1.2-4.0; interaction test P = .01), while the stroma GSs were significantly associated with higher pCR in the single arms and with lower pCR in the combination arm (odds ratio, 0.46; 95% CI, 0.25-0.84; P = .009). None of the evaluated variables was associated with EFS after correction for multiple testing, but this analysis was underpowered.
Conclusions and relevance: High levels of ERBB2/HER2 and low levels of ESR1 were associated with pCR in all treatment arms. In the combination arm, high expression of immune and stroma GSs were significantly associated with higher and lower pCR rates, respectively, and should be further explored as candidate predictive markers.
Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00553358.