Preclinical studies have suggested that VEGFR1-positive cells potentially foster the development of metastases by establishing a “premetastatic niche.” We sought to test this hypothesis in high-risk localized prostate cancer and assess potential niche modulation by the VEGFR1-targeting drug axitinib. Formalin-fixed, paraffin-embedded tissue derived from benign lymph nodes was collected and VEGFR1-positive cell clustering was assessed in benign lymph nodes via IHC. Recursive partitioning was used to define a threshold for VEGFR1 clustering that could segregate patients based on time to biochemical recurrence (TTBR). Multivariate analyses were used to determine whether VEGFR1 clustering, age, pathologic T-stage, Gleason score, or baseline PSA could independently predict TTBR. A randomized, phase II clinical trial comparing axitinib for 28 days followed by radical prostatectomy and pelvic lymph node dissection (RP/PLND) to RP/LND alone was then conducted, with the primary endpoint of demonstrating downregulation of VEGFR1-positve cell clustering in benign lymph nodes. Our retrospective analysis assessed a cohort of 46 patients. A threshold of 1.65 VEGFR1-positive cells per high power field was identified, below which TTBR was delayed. VEGFR1 clustering was an independent predictor of TTBR in a multivariate analysis. Only 11 out of the planned 44 patients were accrued to the phase II trial. While preoperative axitinib was safe and well tolerated, there was no sign of clinical activity or VEGFR1 downregulation. Our results validate previous findings that suggest VEGFR1-positive cells in benign lymph nodes can predict clinical outcome. Further work is needed to develop a viable clinical strategy for modulating VEGFR1 in these tissues.
By Sumanta Kumar Pal, Winston Vuong, Wang Zhang, Jiehui Deng, Xueli Liu, Courtney Carmichael, Nora Ruel, Manasvi Pinnamaneni, Przemyslaw Twardowski, Clayton Lau, Hua Yu, Robert A Figlin, Neeraj Agarwal & Jeremy O Jones