Thymidylate Synthase Expression and Outcome of Patients Receiving Pemetrexed for Advanced Nonsquamous Non–Small-Cell Lung Cancer in a Prospective Blinded Assessment Phase II Clinical Trial

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In retrospective analyses of patients with nonsquamous non–small-cell lung cancer treated with pemetrexed, low thymidylate synthase (TS) expression is associated with better clinical outcomes. This phase II study explored this association prospectively at the protein and mRNA-expression level.


Treatment-naive patients with nonsquamous non–small-cell lung cancer (stage IIIB/IV) had four cycles of first-line chemotherapy with pemetrexed/cisplatin. Nonprogressing patients continued on pemetrexed maintenance until progression or maximum tolerability. TS expression (nucleus/cytoplasm/total) was assessed in diagnostic tissue samples by immunohistochemistry (IHC; H-scores), and quantitative reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction. Cox regression was used to assess the association between H-scores and progression-free/overall survival (PFS/OS) distribution estimated by the Kaplan–Meier method. Maximal χ2 analysis identified optimal cutpoints between low TS- and high TS-expression groups, yielding maximal associations with PFS/OS.


The study enrolled 70 patients; of these 43 (61.4%) started maintenance treatment. In 60 patients with valid H-scores, median (m) PFS was 5.5 (95% confidence interval [CI], 3.9–6.9) months, mOS was 9.6 (95% CI, 7.3–15.7) months. Higher nuclear TS expression was significantly associated with shorter PFS and OS (primary analysis IHC, PFS: p < 0.0001; hazard ratio per 1-unit increase: 1.015; 95%CI, 1.008–1.021). At the optimal cutpoint of nuclear H-score (70), mPFS in the low TS- versus high TS-expression groups was 7.1 (5.7–8.3) versus 2.6 (1.3–4.1) months (p = 0.0015; hazard ratio = 0.28; 95%CI, 0.16–0.52; n = 40/20). Trends were similar for cytoplasm H-scores, quantitative reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction and other clinical endpoints (OS, response, and disease control).


The primary endpoint was met; low TS expression was associated with longer PFS. Further randomized studies are needed to explore nuclear TS IHC expression as a potential biomarker of clinical outcomes for pemetrexed treatment in larger patient cohorts.

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