Effective cough treatments are a significant unmet need in lung cancer patients. Aprepitant is a licensed treatment for nausea and vomiting, which blocks substance P activation of Neurokinin 1 (NK-1) receptors, a mechanism also implicated in cough.
To assess aprepitant in lung cancer patients with cough and evaluate mechanisms in vagal nerve tissue.
Randomised double-blind crossover trial of lung cancer patients with bothersome cough. They received three days of aprepitant or matched placebo; following a three day wash out, patients crossed to the alternative treatment. The primary endpoint was awake cough frequency measured at screening and day 3 of each treatment; secondary endpoints included patient-reported outcomes. In vitro, the depolarization of isolated guinea pig and human vagus nerve sections in grease gap recording chambers, indicative of sensory nerve activation, was measured to evaluate mechanism.
Twenty lung cancer patients enrolled, mean age 66years (±7.7), 60% female, 80% non-small cell cancer, 50% advanced stage and 55% WHO performance status 1. Cough frequency improved with aprepitant, reducing by 22.2%(95%CI 2.8-37.7%) over placebo whilst awake (p=0.03), 30.3%(95%CI 12.7-44.3) over 24hours (p=0.002) and 59.8%(95%CI 15.1-86.0) during sleep (p=0.081). Patient-reported outcomes all significantly improved. Substance P depolarised both guinea pig and human vagus nerve. Aprepitant significantly inhibited substance P induced depolarisation by 78% in guinea pig (p=0.0145) and 94% in human vagus (p=0.0145).
Substance P activation of NK-1 receptors appears to be an important mechanism driving cough in lung cancer, and NK-1 antagonists show promise as anti-tussive therapies. Clinical trial registration available at www.http://www.isrctn.com/, ID: ISRCTN16200035.