Increased levels of hypoxia and hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α) in human sarcomas correlate with tumor progression and radiation resistance. Prolonged antiangiogenic therapy of tumors not only delays tumor growth but may also increase hypoxia and HIF-1α activity. In our recent clinical trial, treatment with the vascular endothelial growth factor A (VEGF-A) antibody, bevacizumab, followed by a combination of bevacizumab and radiation led to near complete necrosis in nearly half of sarcomas. Gene Set Enrichment Analysis of microarrays from pretreatment biopsies found that the Gene Ontology category "Response to hypoxia" was upregulated in poor responders and that the hierarchical clustering based on 140 hypoxia-responsive genes reliably separated poor responders from good responders. The most commonly used chemotherapeutic drug for sarcomas, doxorubicin (Dox), was recently found to block HIF-1α binding to DNA at low metronomic doses. In four sarcoma cell lines, HIF-1α shRNA or Dox at low concentrations blocked HIF-1α induction of VEGF-A by 84-97% and carbonic anhydrase 9 by 83-93%. HT1080 sarcoma xenografts had increased hypoxia and/or HIF-1α activity with increasing tumor size and with anti-VEGF receptor antibody (DC101) treatment. Combining DC101 with HIF-1α shRNA or metronomic Dox had a synergistic effect in suppressing growth of HT1080 xenografts, at least in part via induction of tumor endothelial cell apoptosis. In conclusion, sarcomas respond to increased hypoxia by expressing HIF-1α target genes that may promote resistance to antiangiogenic and other therapies. HIF-1α inhibition blocks this evasive resistance and augments destruction of the tumor vasculature.
PURPOSE: Numerous preclinical studies have demonstrated that angiogenesis inhibitors can increase the efficacy of radiotherapy (RT). We sought to examine the safety and efficacy of bevacizumab (BV) and RT in soft tissue sarcomas and explore biomarkers to help determine the treatment response. METHODS AND MATERIALS: Patients with ≥5 cm, intermediate- or high-grade soft tissue sarcomas at significant risk of local recurrence received neoadjuvant BV alone followed by BV plus RT before surgical resection. Correlative science studies included analysis of the serial blood and tumor samples and serial perfusion computed tomography scans. RESULTS: The 20 patients had a median tumor size of 8.25 cm, with 13 extremity, 1 trunk, and 6 retroperitoneal/pelvis tumors. The neoadjuvant treatment was well tolerated, with only 4 patients having Grade 3 toxicities (hypertension, liver function test elevation). BV plus RT resulted in ≥80% pathologic necrosis in 9 (45%) of 20 tumors, more than double the historical rate seen with RT alone. Three patients had a complete pathologic response. The median microvessel density decreased 53% after BV alone (p <.05). After combination therapy, the median tumor cell proliferation decreased by 73%, apoptosis increased 10.4-fold, and the blood flow, blood volume, and permeability surface area decreased by 62-72% (p <.05). Analysis of gene expression microarrays of untreated tumors identified a 24-gene signature for treatment response. The microvessel density and circulating progenitor cells at baseline and the reduction in microvessel density and plasma soluble c-KIT with BV therapy also correlated with a good pathologic response (p <.05). After a median follow-up of 20 months, only 1 patient had developed local recurrence. CONCLUSIONS: The results from the present exploratory study indicated that BV increases the efficacy of RT against soft tissue sarcomas and might reduce the incidence of local recurrence. Thus, this regimen warrants additional investigation. Gene expression profiles and other tissue and circulating biomarkers showed promising correlations with treatment response.