Alleviating Chemo-Related Nausea Is a Huge Unmet Need

Mark G. Kris, MD


February 02, 2022

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

This is Mark Kris from chilly New York and Memorial Sloan Kettering. Today I want to talk about a recent article in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that reported a study of a new neurokinin-1 antagonist called fosnetupitant. This was a well-conducted trial that demonstrates the noninferiority of IV fosnetupitant when compared with IV fosaprepitant. By their study criteria, fosnetupitant was not inferior.

But my reason for discussing this is that the paper and the trial miss the point for the field right now. Although the authors talk about the prevention of nausea and vomiting in the introduction, in the paper itself and in the abstract results section, there's not a single mention about the medication's ability to control nausea, which is the critical issue for our patients today. You have to go into the supplementary data to find it mentioned, and what you find is that the prevention of nausea is 50% for both the control and this new drug. We control nausea in only half of the patients who receive cisplatin in 2022. That is a huge issue.

When you ask patients what are the effects of cancer treatment that they fear most, that concerns them most, it's nausea and emesis; indeed, nausea has replaced emesis as the biggest concern. And although this trial used emesis as the main endpoint, and it was useful in defining the drug, it was not useful in coming up with a new treatment that addresses a huge need. Further, the authors talk about an advantage to fosnetupitant based on infusion reactions, but it is a difference of 0.3% vs 3%. They talk about that sort of thing in the abstract and in the discussion section but don't include nausea as part of the key endpoint of this trial. Again, you had to dig deeply to find out that, frankly, fosnetupitant was no better than the drugs we already have.

The other concerning point is that we do have another drug that works well. If you go to the American Society of Clinical Oncology or National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines for patients receiving high dosages of cisplatin, you find a four-drug regimen, including olanzapine, and that was not used here. Why is olanzapine so critical? It's an available drug, it's an inexpensive drug, it's a safe drug, and it improves nausea by 15%.

So they did this huge trial to show noninferiority, and they neglected to give a drug that could deal with the most serious side effect of cancer therapy — nausea — and improve things by 15%.

A challenge to people in this field: We have to do better. Nausea is a big problem. While noninferiority trials can be helpful for drug development, they're not really helpful for the field. With a problem of this magnitude, we need better drugs to control nausea. In the meantime, I urge you all to follow the guidelines for high doses of cisplatin. Please use the four-drug regimen that is recommended in the guidelines and widely used in the United States. Going forward, make sure that when we expend huge amounts of energy to develop new agents and report them in our medical journals, that we look for ways to advance care where there are significant gaps in our ability to deliver what we want. Delivering better control of nausea is something we all need to be committed to. It's a huge unmet need, and I hope future trials will address that need. Our patients will be better for it and we'll be better in that we're delivering what patients deserve, what they need, and what they ask for.

Mark G. Kris, MD, is chief of the thoracic oncology service and the William and Joy Ruane Chair in Thoracic Oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. His research interests include targeted therapies for lung cancer, multimodality therapy, the development of new anticancer drugs, and symptom management with a focus on preventing emesis.

Follow Medscape on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.