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Annals of Oncology
Open Access 
Risk-adapted modulation through de-intensification of cancer treatments: an ESMO classification 

Authors: D. Trapani, M.A. Franzoi, H.J. Burstein, N. Cherny, G. Curigliano, F. André
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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annonc.2022.03.273


  • The landscape of clinical trials testing risk-adapted modulations of cancer treatments is complex.
  • Several trial designs and endpoints are used to evaluate de-intensified cancer therapies.
  • ESMO has developed a classification to categorise biomarkers to inform risk-guided intensity modulation of cancer treatments.
  • The classification includes three tiers, based on the clinical trial methodology and results.
  • The ESMO classification will help harmonise definitions, thereby facilitating communication with all relevant stakeholders.


The landscape of clinical trials testing risk-adapted modulations of cancer treatments is complex. Multiple trial designs, endpoints, and thresholds for non-inferiority have been used; however, no consensus or convention has ever been agreed to categorise biomarkers useful to inform the treatment intensity modulation of cancer treatments.


An expert subgroup under the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO) Precision Medicine Working Group shaped an international collaborative project to develop a classification system for biomarkers used in the cancer treatment de-intensification, based on a tiered approach. A group of disease-oriented clinical, translational, methodology and public health experts, and patients’ representatives provided an analysis of the status quo, and scanned the horizon of ongoing clinical trials. The classification was developed through multiple rounds of expert revisions and inputs.


The working group agreed on a univocal definition of treatment de-intensification. Evidence of reduction in the dose-density, intensity, or cumulative dose, including intermittent schedules or shorter treatment duration or deletion of segment(s) of the standard regimens, compound(s), or treatment modality must be demonstrated, to define a treatment de-intensification. De-intensified regimens must also portend a positive impact on toxicity, quality of life, health system burden, or financial toxicity. ESMO classification categorises the biomarkers for treatment modulation in three tiers, based on the level of evidence. Tier A includes biomarkers validated in prospective, randomised, non-inferiority clinical trials. The working group agreed that in non-inferiority clinical trials, boundaries are highly dependent upon the disease scenario and endpoint being studied and that the absolute differences in the outcomes are the most relevant measures, rather than relative differences. Biomarkers tested in single-arm studies with a threshold of non-inferiority are classified as Tier B. Tier C is when the validation occurs in prospective-retrospective quality cohort investigations.


ESMO classification for the risk-guided intensity modulation of cancer treatments provides a set of evidence-based criteria to categorise biomarkers deemed to inform de-intensification of cancer treatments, in risk-defined patients. The classification aims at harmonising definitions on this matter, therefore offering a common language for all the relevant stakeholders, including clinicians, patients, decision-makers, and for clinical trials.

Read full text article in Annals of Oncology

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