Abemaciclib in Focus: A Look at monarchE Trial

  • Abemaciclib, a CDK4 & 6 inhibitor, has shown a sustained benefit in invasive disease-free survival in high-risk EBC, as seen in the monarchE trial.

  • While effective, abemaciclib does have side effects, and these can be more pronounced in older patients. Diarrhea, fatigue, and neutropenia are among the common adverse events.

  • Older patients require careful monitoring. They may require more frequent surveillance and early intervention to manage adverse events, particularly those above 75 years of age.

  • The monarchE trial represents a significant step forward in the fight against breast cancer. Its results offer an evidence-based approach to improving patient outcomes.

  • Individualized treatment plans are crucial. Each patient's treatment must be tailored to their specific needs, taking into account their age, health status, and personal comfort with the risk of potential side effects.

Breast cancer remains one of the most prevalent and deadly forms of cancer worldwide.

As scientists continue to search for effective treatments, certain therapies have risen to the forefront, promising a better prognosis and improved quality of life for patients. One such therapy is abemaciclib, a novel drug that has shown considerable promise in recent clinical trials.

Abemaciclib, developed by Eli Lilly and Company, is a selective inhibitor of the cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 6 (CDK4 & 6). By inhibiting these kinases, abemaciclib is designed to halt the growth of cancer cells, effectively slowing or stopping the progression of the disease. Abemaciclib is used to treat HR+, HER2- breast cancer, which accounts for a significant proportion of all breast cancers.

To understand the effectiveness and safety of new treatments like abemaciclib, we rely heavily on clinical trials.

These carefully designed studies involve thousands of participants, with the goal of determining whether a new treatment is safe, effective, and potentially better than existing therapies.

The monarchE trial is one such study that has put abemaciclib in the spotlight.

This pivotal study aimed to determine the efficacy and safety of combining abemaciclib with endocrine therapy (ET) in treating patients with HR+, HER2-, node-positive, high-risk early breast cancer (EBC).

The monarchE trial stands out as one of the largest and most comprehensive trials focusing on this specific type of breast cancer. Its findings have the potential to shape how we approach treatment strategies for high-risk EBC.

Breast Cancer & Abemaciclib

Breast cancer is a complex, multifaceted disease that primarily affects women but can also occur in men.

Globally, it is the most common cancer among women and the second most common cancer overall, according to the World Health Organization, nearly 2.3 million women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020, and 685,000 deaths were reported worldwide.

Breast cancer arises from cells in the breasts that begin to grow abnormally, forming a lump or mass, often detectable through a mammogram before any symptoms are apparent.

There are different types of breast cancer, and they are categorized based on the type of cells in the breast that are affected.

HR+, HER2- breast cancer, which stands for Hormone Receptor positive and Human Epidermal growth factor Receptor 2 negative, is a type of cancer that tests positive for hormone receptors but negative for HER2. This type of cancer is particularly susceptible to treatments that target these hormone receptors.

Abemaciclib plays a crucial role in the treatment of this type of breast cancer.

Specifically, it is designed to treat HR+, HER2- breast cancer, by inhibiting cyclin-dependent kinases 4 and 6 (CDK4 & 6). These kinases play a crucial role in cell division, and by inhibiting their function, abemaciclib effectively halts the growth of cancer cells. By stalling cell division, the drug can slow the progression of the disease, providing a new tool in the fight against breast cancer.

But, is abemaciclib a chemotherapy drug? The answer is nuanced.

Traditionally, chemotherapy refers to drugs that kill rapidly dividing cells throughout the body, not discriminating between cancerous and healthy cells. This approach often leads to various side effects due to the impact on healthy cells.

Abemaciclib, on the other hand, falls under the category of targeted therapy. It specifically targets and inhibits CDK4 & 6, which are crucial for cell division. By honing in on these specific enzymes, abemaciclib aims to halt the growth of cancer cells with minimal impact on healthy cells, leading to fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy.

The monarchE Study

The monarchE study is a groundbreaking clinical trial that has generated considerable interest within the medical and scientific community. This trial is a phase 3 randomized study focused on evaluating the efficacy and safety of abemaciclib.

In essence, the study aimed to assess whether the combination of abemaciclib and ET is more effective than ET alone in preventing disease recurrence.

The participants in the monarchE trial were carefully selected based on a range of criteria.

Patients were required to have: HR+, HER2-, node-positive, high-risk EBC.

Like we mentioned before, this is a type of breast cancer that tests positive for hormone receptors (indicating that hormones like estrogen and progesterone can stimulate the cancer's growth) but tests negative for HER2 (a protein that promotes cancer cell growth).

High-risk was defined as having at least four positive axillary lymph nodes or one to three positive axillary lymph nodes with either a tumor size of at least 5 cm, histological grade 3, or Oncotype DX Recurrence Score of at least 31.

An essential aspect of understanding the results of the monarchE trial is the concept of the hazard ratio.

The hazard ratio is a measure of how often a particular event happens in one group compared to how often it happens in another group, over time. In the context of the monarchE trial, the hazard ratio was used to compare the rate of disease recurrence in the group treated with abemaciclib and ET versus the group treated with ET alone.

A hazard ratio of less than 1 indicates that the event (in this case, disease recurrence) was less likely to occur in the group treated with abemaciclib and ET, suggesting a treatment benefit. The closer the hazard ratio is to zero, the greater the treatment benefit.

Understanding the significance of the hazard ratio is crucial when interpreting the results of clinical trials like monarchE, as it offers a clear, quantifiable measure of the impact of a treatment. The National Cancer Institute provides a more in-depth explanation of this concept.

Abemaciclib Clinical Trials

Abemaciclib has been the subject of numerous clinical trials to evaluate its effectiveness in treating different types of cancer, particularly HR+, HER2- breast cancer. These trials have provided crucial insights into the drug's potency and safety profile, leading to its approval by regulatory bodies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for specific indications.

Let's look at the success rate of abemaciclib in terms of its ability to inhibit the progression of the disease and improve survival rates.

The monarchE trial, which we mentioned earlier, provided some of the most compelling evidence of abemaciclib's effectiveness.

At the median follow-up of 42 months, both the <65 years and ≥65 years age groups showed a favorable invasive disease-free survival (IDFS) effect. This benefit was observed when comparing the combination of abemaciclib and endocrine therapy versus endocrine therapy alone, suggesting a clear advantage in the inclusion of abemaciclib in the treatment regimen.

These results underline the potential of abemaciclib in improving treatment outcomes, providing hope to patients battling this formidable disease.

The Monarch 3 trial also provides critical insights into the effectiveness of abemaciclib.

In the study: abemaciclib was tested in combination with an aromatase inhibitor, then it was compared with an aromatase inhibitor alone in postmenopausal women with HR+, HER2- advanced breast cancer who had not previously received systemic treatment for their advanced disease.

The trial results, as reported in The Journal of Clinical Oncology, demonstrated that the addition of abemaciclib significantly improved progression-free survival, further establishing the drug's place in the arsenal against breast cancer.

Abemaciclib FDA Approval

Marketed under the brand name Verzenio by Eli Lilly, received its first approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2017.

It was approved for use in combination with an aromatase inhibitor as initial endocrine-based therapy for the treatment of postmenopausal women with HR+, HER2- advanced or metastatic breast cancer.

Later, in 2020, the FDA expanded the approval of abemaciclib in combination with endocrine therapy for the adjuvant treatment of adult patients with this type of breast cancer (EBC). This decision was based on the results from the landmark monarchE trial, reinforcing the role of abemaciclib as an important treatment option in this setting.

Following these approvals, abemaciclib has made its way into clinical practice, providing oncologists with an additional tool in their armamentarium against breast cancer. The drug's role in the adjuvant setting is particularly noteworthy, as it addresses a significant need for new therapeutic options to improve outcomes in patients with high-risk early breast cancer.

Conclusions and Recommendations from the monarchE Trial

The monarchE trial has been instrumental in establishing the efficacy and safety profile of abemaciclib.

In the monarchE trial, a total of 4787 patients were aged <65 years, while 850 were ≥65 years. The primary endpoints for efficacy— invasive disease-free survival (IDFS) and distant relapse-free survival (DRFS) — were analyzed across these age groups.

A hazard ratio (HR) less than 1 indicates that the event of interest (in this case, invasive disease or distant relapse) is less likely to occur in the treatment group than in the control group.

In the monarchE trial, a favorable IDFS effect was observed for both age groups treated with abemaciclib + endocrine therapy, versus endocrine therapy alone. This was demonstrated by HR values of 0.646 and 0.767 for the <65 and ≥65 age groups, respectively, which were both less than 1

The monarchE study affirmed the treatment benefit of adjuvant abemaciclib + endocrine therapy across age subgroups, thereby demonstrating its efficacy. However, it's equally important to consider the drug's safety. In the trial, older patients (≥65 years) showed a slightly higher incidence of grade ≥3 adverse events (AEs), primarily diarrhea and fatigue, compared to younger patients. Serious AEs and treatment discontinuations were also more common in older patients, emphasizing the need for careful management of these individuals.

These findings suggest that more frequent surveillance and early intervention may be key to managing older patients, especially those aged 75 and above.

Clinical Trial Information NCT03155997

For those interested in further details of the monarchE study, you can find comprehensive information on the clinical trial database. Here, you'll find more about the study's design, eligibility criteria, and detailed outcomes, helping you better understand the impact of abemaciclib in breast cancer treatment.

Insights from Clinical Trials

An essential aspect of any therapeutic drug is its safety profile.

This essentially captures the risk of adverse events (AEs) associated with the drug, informing doctors and patients about potential side effects and complications that might occur during treatment.

Here, we'll take a closer look at the safety profile of abemaciclib, particularly in relation to age groups, with a special focus on patients aged 75 and above.

Based on the results from the monarchE trial, some adverse events associated with the drug, but most were manageable with dose adjustments or supportive care.

Some of the most commonly observed AEs included fatigue and diarrhea.

It's important to remember that not all patients will experience these side effects, and they may vary in severity from person to person. To manage these symptoms effectively, doctors may adjust the dose of abemaciclib or introduce supportive measures such as medication to control diarrhea.

Age-Specific Reactions to Abemaciclib Treatment

One of the key findings from the monarchE trial was that older patients (those aged 65 and above) had a slightly higher incidence of AEs compared to younger patients.

Specifically, patients in the ≥75 age bracket had the highest rates of AEs and discontinuations due to AEs.

Notably, despite the higher incidence of side effects, neutropenia (a decrease in the number of white blood cells) was not increased among older patients, and venous thromboembolic events (blood clots) occurred at similar rates among both younger (<65 years) and older (≥65 years) patients.

These findings emphasize the need for closer monitoring and early intervention for patients aged 75 and above. More frequent surveillance can help detect AEs early on, facilitating prompt management and minimizing the impact on the patient's quality of life.

Insights from Erika Hamilton, MD

To understand the real-world implications of the monarchE trial results and abemaciclib's role in the treatment of breast cancer, it's valuable to hear from experts in the field.

Dr. Erika Hamilton is the Director of the Breast Cancer and Gynecologic Cancer Research Program at the Sarah Cannon Research Institute. She's recognized for her ground-breaking contributions to oncology and her relentless pursuit of better treatment outcomes for her patients. In her interview at ASCO 2023, she shared her perspectives on the use of abemaciclib in the treatment of high-risk EBC:



Navigating the complex landscape of breast cancer treatments can be challenging, but advances in medical research and new therapies like abemaciclib are continually broadening our options and improving patient outcomes.

The results from the monarchE trial represent a significant development in our arsenal against high-risk EBC, providing hope for both patients and their caregivers.

It's important to note that while abemaciclib shows a great deal of promise, its use should be tailored to the individual patient. The balance between potential benefits and risks of side effects is crucial. Particularly in older patients, this means a careful and thorough evaluation of the patient's overall health status and their ability to tolerate potential adverse events.

Through understanding, education, and ongoing research, we can continue to refine our approach to breast cancer treatment.

By using the latest data from clinical trials, such as those of abemaciclib, we can make informed decisions that prioritize patient health, longevity, and quality of life.

Abemaciclib in Focus: A Look at monarchE Trial

Dive deep into the role of abemaciclib, a breakthrough drug in breast cancer treatment. Get detailed insights from the monarchE trial, expert opinions, and more.