Targeting Folate Receptor α Is Ideal for Ovarian Cancer Treatment

Pharmacy Practice in Focus: OncologyJuly 2023
Volume 5
Issue 5

FRα expression is limited on normal cells, but upregulated in ovarian cancer cells.

Targeting folate in oncology is not new, explained Kathleen N. Moore, MD, MS, during a presentation at the 2023 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting. Efforts to exploit folates in the pursuit of anticancer therapies started with antimetabolites, such as methotrexate and pemetrexed, according to Moore.

Credit: fusebulb -

Credit: fusebulb -

“These efforts focused on mechanisms of folate uptake, including reduced folate carriers,” she said during the presentation. “More recent efforts have focused on the folate receptor [FR] itself and, specifi-cally, FRα. Current research is seeking to utilize FRαas a therapeutic target, possible [chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T)] target, a diagnostic target, and potentially as an imaging modality to improve cytoreduction.”

Specifically, FRα has been found to be an ideal target for ovarian cancer, according to Moore. FRα is a cell-surface folate receptor that mediates folate transport into epithelial cells, and FRα expression is limited on normal cells. However, FRα expression is upregulated on cancers, such as on endometrial cancers and triple-negative breast cancers (TNBCs), but also primarily on ovarian cancers.

“FRα may be expressed on the alveoli of the lungs and on renal proximal tubules. However, these receptors are located on the surface of the cell facing the alveolar and tubular lumen, which reduces the exposure of the targets to circulating agents,” Moore said.

Furthermore, FRα is overexpressed in 14% to 74% of non–small cell lung cancers, in 72% to 100% of meso-theliomas, in 20% to 50% of endometrial cancers, in 35% to 68% of TNBCs, and in 76% to 89% of epithelial ovarian cancers. However, FRα is expressed in 0% to 7% of nonmalignant endometrial tissue samples, 0% to 20% of nonmalignant breast tissue samples, and 0% to 25% of nonmalignant ovarian tissue samples.

“There are also moderate levels of FRα expression, typically restricted to the apical surfaces of bronchial cells, in 75% to 90% of tissue samples,” Moore said. “There’s also no detectable FRα expression in nonma-lignant pleural tissue samples.”

Moore also noted that out of 14 antibody-drug conjugates (ADCs) currently under evaluation in gynecologic cancers, 3 target FRα: mirvetuximab soravtansine (Elahere; ImmunoGen), STRO-002 (luveltamab tazevibulin, Luvelta; Sutro Biopharma), and MORAb-202 (farletuzumab ecteribulin; Eisai and Bristol Myers Squibb). For mirvetuximab soravtansine, there are 4 trials underway: the phase 3 GLORIOSA trial (NCT05445778), the phase 3 MIRASOL trial (NCT04209855), the phase 2 SORAYA trial (NCT04296890), and the phase 2 PICCOLO trial (NCT05041257). For STRO-002, there are 2 phase 1 trials (NCT03748186 and NCT05200364) underway, and for MORAb-202 there is 1 phase 2 trial being conducted (NCT05613088).

“There are a lot of [ADCs] under development, and [ADCs] are emerging as highly active therapeutics in gynecologic cancers,” Moore said. “Actually, this list [of 14 ADCs] is an incomplete list as of [June 2], but these are most of the [ADCs] that are [under investiga-tion] in phase 2 or 3.”

The ADC targeting FRα with the most available data is mirvetuximab soravtansine, which conjugates to DM4, a microtubule toxin. Based on the phase 2 SORAYA trial, the results showed 71% of patients experienced tumor reduction, which was assessed using the Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors (n = 102). During the trial, the most common treatment-related adverse events were blurred vision, keratopathy (a noninflammatory condition of the eye), and nausea.

“So what are the basics of using mirvetuximab soravtansine and who is eligible? Currently, patients with platinum-resistant ovarian cancer—including fallopian tube and peritoneal—who have been on 1 to 3 prior lines of therapy and who show high FRα expres-sion by the FDA-approved [companion diagnostics] are eligible,” Moore said.

Moore additionally noted that the starting dose for mirvetuximab soravtansine is 6 mg/kg given intravenously every 3 weeks and should be dosed by adjusted ideal body weight (AIBW). AIBW can be calculatedas IBW + 0.25 x (actual weight – IBW), accordingto Moore.

Furthermore, FRα status should be determined by an immunohistochemistry test; approximately 35% of (mainly serous) tumors are FRα and eligible for mirvetuximab soravtansine. Additionally, FRα is defined as more than 75% of tumor cells staining with 2+ or 3+ intensity by the VENTANA FOLR1 (FOLR1-2.1) RxDx Assay.

“Mirvetuximab soravtansine is now FDA approved based on accelerated approval in the United States as of November 2022. Results of the MIRASOL trial will also be released at this ASCO meeting with an anticipated full FDA approval as well as global authorization [to follow],” Moore said. “Mitigation strategies and attention to ocular disorders should allow patients to maintain dosing and benefit from [mirvetuximab soravtansine] without permanent ocular impairment.”


Moore KN. New frontiers in drug development: targeting folate receptor alpha. Presented at: 2023 ASCO Annual Meeting; June 2-6, 2023; Chicago, IL. Accessed June 2, 2023.

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