Histology-agnostic drug development - considering issues beyond the tissue

Nat Rev Clin Oncol. 2020 Sep;17(9):555-568. doi: 10.1038/s41571-020-0384-0. Epub 2020 Jun 11.


With advances in tumour biology and immunology that continue to refine our understanding of cancer, therapies are now being developed to treat cancers on the basis of specific molecular alterations and markers of immune phenotypes that transcend specific tumour histologies. With the landmark approvals of pembrolizumab for the treatment of patients whose tumours have high microsatellite instability and larotrectinib and entrectinib for those harbouring NTRK fusions, a regulatory pathway has been created to facilitate the approval of histology-agnostic indications. Negative results presented in the past few years, however, highlight the intrinsic complexities faced by drug developers pursuing histology-agnostic therapeutic agents. When patient selection and statistical analysis involve multiple potentially heterogeneous histologies, guidance is needed to navigate the challenges posed by trial design. Additionally, as new therapeutic agents are tested and post-approval data become available, the regulatory framework for acting on these data requires further optimization. In this Review, we summarize the development and testing of approved histology-agnostic therapeutic agents and present data on other agents currently under development. Finally, we discuss the challenges intrinsic to histology-agnostic drug development in oncology, including biological, regulatory, design and statistical considerations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / immunology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Drug Development*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Precision Medicine


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • Biomarkers, Tumor