HER2 Expression, Test Deviations, and Their Impact on Survival in Metastatic Gastric Cancer: Results From the Prospective Multicenter VARIANZ Study.

Trastuzumab is the only approved targeted drug for first-line treatment of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2-positive (HER2+) metastatic gastric cancer (mGC). However, not all patients respond and most eventually progress. The multicenter VARIANZ study aimed to investigate the background of response and resistance to trastuzumab in mGC.Patients receiving medical treatment for mGC were prospectively recruited in 35 German sites and followed for up to 48 months. HER2 status was assessed centrally by immunohistochemistry and chromogenic in situ hybridization. In addition, HER2 gene expression was assessed using qPCR.Five hundred forty-eight patients were enrolled, and 77 had HER2+ mGC by central assessment (14.1%). A high deviation rate of 22.7% between central and local test results was seen. Patients who received trastuzumab for centrally confirmed HER2+ mGC (central HER2+/local HER2+) lived significantly longer as compared with patients who received trastuzumab for local HER2+ but central HER2- mGC (20.5 months, n = 60 v 10.9 months, n = 65; hazard ratio, 0.42; 95% CI, 8.2 to 14.4; P < .001). In the centrally confirmed cohort, significantly more tumor cells stained HER2+ than in the unconfirmed cohort, and the HER2 amplification ratio was significantly higher. A minimum of 40% HER2+ tumor cells and a HER2 amplification ratio of ≥ 3.0 were calculated as optimized thresholds for predicting benefit from trastuzumab.Significant discrepancies in HER2 assessment of mGC were found in tumor specimens with intermediate HER2 expression. Borderline HER2 positivity and heterogeneity of HER2 expression should be considered as resistance factors for HER2-targeting treatment of mGC. HER2 thresholds should be reconsidered. Detailed reports with quantification of HER2 expression and amplification levels may improve selection of patients for HER2-directed treatment.

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Authors: Ivonne Haffner, Katrin Schierle, Elba Raimúndez, Birgitta Geier, Dieter Maier, Jan Hasenauer, Birgit Luber, Axel Walch, Katharina Kolbe, Jorge Riera Knorrenschild, Albrecht Kretzschmar, Beate Rau, Ludwig Fischer von Weikersthal, Miriam Ahlborn, Gabriele Siegler, Stefan Fuxius, Thomas Decker, Christian Wittekind, Florian Lordick