Background: Treatment of estrogen receptor (ER)-positive breast cancer with selective estrogen receptor degraders (SERDs) frequently results in the loss or reduction of ER expression. Whether these changes are due to on-target effects of SERDs degrading ER or arise as a mechanism of tumor resistance with associated changes in cellular phenotypes remains unknown. It is critical to distinguish between these possibilities to accurately assess treatment response and determine the most appropriate subsequent therapy. To this end, we created and conducted molecular analyses on patient-derived organoid cultures from post-treatment tissue in patients receiving neoadjuvant SERD therapy for early-stage ER+ breast cancer in the I-SPY2 Endocrine Optimization Protocol (EOP).
Methods: The I-SPY2 EOP study is a prospective, randomized substudy within the I-SPY TRIAL testing the oral SERD amcenestrant alone or in combination with letrozole or abemaciclib in stage 2/3 ER+ Her2-negative breast cancer. Enrollment is ongoing, with patients receiving amcenestrant neoadjuvantly for 6 months until the day before surgery. Tumor tissue is collected at baseline, 3 weeks, and at surgery. Organoids were generated from post-treatment surgical samples. Organoid cultures were optimized based on established methods (Dekkers et al., Nature Protocols, 2021) to assess ER levels and activity. Pre- and post-treatment tissue samples were also assessed for ER, PR, Ki67, and GATA3, a luminal marker and transcription factor that is functionally linked with ER, via immunohistochemistry.
Results: In 7 patients with both pre- and post-treatment tissue samples including fresh surgical samples for organoid generation, the ER in baseline tumor tissue was >=90% in all patients, PR ranged from 40-90%, and Ki67 ranged from 5-30%. In post-treatment surgical tissue from these cases, ER ranged from 0-30%, PR from 0-50%, Ki67 from < 1%-10%, and GATA3 was positive in 5 of 5 cases tested to-date. The creation of organoids from residual disease at surgery was attempted for these 7 patients, with organoids successfully propagated in 5 cases thus far. 3 of 5 organoid cultures were ready for analysis and in all cases strong ER and PR expression in organoids was observed after culture for > 1 month in the absence of amcenestrant. Detailed gene expression profiling (including Mammaprint/Blueprint) and gene set enrichment analyses (GSEA) to assess for intrinsic breast cancer subtype and ER activity in each sample and corresponding organoid culture are in progress and will be reported with the full dataset.
Conclusion: Patient-derived organoid culturing of residual disease after neoadjuvant endocrine therapy is feasible. Neoadjuvant treatment with a SERD can render ER and PR low or absent at the time of surgical resection, which does not necessarily imply the presence of endocrine therapy resistant disease. The use of organoids and additional IHC markers (GATA3) demonstrate that receptor negativity may be an indicator of the drug hitting its target, suggesting ER signaling is still intact. In general, patient-derived tumor organoid cultures modeling residual disease states can be a useful adjunct to existing methods used to monitor the effects of neoadjuvant endocrine therapy and is being explored in the I-SPY EOP trial.