Approval summary: letrozole in the treatment of postmenopausal women with advanced breast cancer.Clin Cancer Res. 2002 Mar; 8(3):665-9.CC
Letrozole (Femara; Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., East Hanover, NJ) is a nonsteroidal inhibitor of aromatase enzyme complex. It inhibits the peripheral conversion of circulating androgens to estrogens. In postmenopausal women, letrozole decreases plasma concentrations of estradiol, estrone, and estrone sulfate by 75-95% from baseline with maximal suppression achieved within 2-3 days of treatment initiation. Suppression is dose related, with doses of >or=0.5 mg giving estrone and estrone sulfate values that were often below assay detection limits. At clinically used dosage, letrozole does not impair adrenal synthesis of glucocorticoids or aldosterone. In 1998, letrozole was approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of advanced breast cancer in postmenopausal women, with hormone receptor positive or unknown breast cancer, who had failed one prior antiestrogen treatment (i.e., for "second-line" treatment). Approval was based on two randomized trials comparing tumor RRs of patients receiving 0.5 mg of letrozole, 2.5 mg of letrozole, and either megestrol acetate (MA) or aminoglutethimide. In the megestrol trial, 2.5 mg/day letrozole was superior to 0.5 mg of letrozole and MA (RRs 24, 13, and 16%, respectively), whereas in the aminoglutethimide trial, there was no significant difference in 2.5 mg of letrozole and 0.5 mg of letrozole RRs (20 and 17%). There was a trend toward RR superiority of 2.5 mg of letrozole over aminoglutethimide (P = 0.06). Letrozole (2.5 mg) was the dose chosen for comparison with tamoxifen in the first-line setting. In July 2000, a marketing application for first-line letrozole treatment of postmenopausal women with hormone receptor positive or hormone receptor unknown locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer was submitted to the FDA. A single double-blind, double dummy, randomized, and multicenter trial compared 2.5 mg of letrozole to 20 mg of tamoxifen (456 patients/arm). Letrozole was superior to tamoxifen with regard to time to progression (TTP) and objective response rate (RR). The median TTP for letrozole treatment was 9.9 months [95% confidence interval (CI) 9.1-12.2] versus 6.2 months (95% CI 5.8-8.5) for tamoxifen, P = 0.0001, hazard ratio 0.713, (95% CI 0.61-0.84). RR was 32% for letrozole versus 21% for tamoxifen (odds ratio 1.74, 95% CI 1.29-2.34, P = 0.0003). Preliminary survival data (survival data are still blinded) indicate that letrozole is unlikely to be worse than tamoxifen. Both treatments were similarly tolerated. On the basis of these results, the United States FDA approved letrozole tablets, 2.5 mg/day, for first-line treatment of postmenopausal women with hormone receptor-positive or hormone receptor-unknown locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer. The manufacturer made a commitment to provide updated information on survival.