‘Immune Checkpoint’ Drugs Show New Promise for Treating Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer


It has become routine practice to prescribe targeted drugs to patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), whose tumors harbor molecular alterations in EGFR, ALK, and ROS. However, the majority of patients with NSCLC have no targetable mutations and lack good treatment options. Enter immunotherapy drugs, specifically ‘immune checkpoint blockade antibodies,’ to which many refer simply as ‘anti-PD-1 drugs,’ or simply ‘PD-1 drugs.’ In this post, I provide some updates on the efficacy of anti-PD-1 and anti-PD-L1 drugs in lung cancer. Continue reading…


Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors in Melanoma: New Directions


The drugs pembrolizumab (Keytruda) and nivolumab (Opdivo) were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2014 and 2015, respectively. These two competing blockbuster drugs are already changing the outlook in metastatic melanoma, previously considered to be a fatal disease. Known as ‘immune checkpoint inhibitors,’ they work by releasing ‘brakes’ on a patient’s own immune system, freeing it to attack tumors. In the wake of their success, researchers are now taking immune checkpoint inhibition in new directions. Continue reading…


More on the Use of Nivolumab and Ipilimumab in Melanoma

“As single agents, immune checkpoints blockers nivolumab (Opdivo) and ipilimumab (Yervoy) both have demonstrated improvements in overall survival for patients with metastatic melanoma. However, when taken together, these agents have demonstrated even more impressive findings.

“Earlier reported findings from a phase I dose-escalation study demonstrated that the combination of the PD-1 inhibitor nivolumab and the CTLA-4 inhibitor ipilimumab demonstrated encouraging antitumor activity. Additionally, an ongoing phase III clinical trial is assessing nivolumab or ipilimumab plus nivolumab versus ipilimumab alone in previously untreated patients with advanced melanoma (CheckMate-067; NCT01844505).

“At the 2015 AACR Annual Meeting, F. Stephen Hodi, MD, presented findings from the phase II CheckMate-069 trial, further validating the efficacy seen with the combination in earlier studies and providing hints at what could be expected in the phase III trial. In this analysis, nivolumab plus ipilimumab delayed disease progression by 60% compared with 11% in patients who were given ipilimumab alone (HR = 0.40; 95% CI, 0.23-0.68; P .001). With the combination, the ORR was 61% in BRAF wild-type (WT) patients and 52% in BRAF-positive patients.

“Included in the phase II CheckMate-069 study were 142 treatment-naïve patients with advanced melanoma with a median patient age of 65 years. Patients were randomized to receive ipilimumab at 3 mg/kg with either nivolumab at 1 mg/kg (n = 95) or placebo (n = 47) every 3 weeks for four doses. This was followed by nivolumab or placebo every 2 weeks until progression or unacceptable toxicity.”


T-VEC plus Ipilimumab Appears Safe, Effective for Unresected Melanoma

“Talimogene laherparepvec combined with ipilimumab demonstrated tolerability at the planned doses without dose-limiting toxicities in patients with unresected, stage IIIB to IV melanoma, according to study results presented at the HemOnc Today Melanoma and Cutaneous Malignancies meeting in New York.

“The combination also demonstrated higher overall and complete response rates than typical for either agent alone, results showed.

“Talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC, Amgen) — a systemically active oncolytic immunotherapy derived from herpes simplex virus type 1 — yielded a higher durable response (≥ 6 months) than granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) in a phase 3 melanoma trial, according to study background.

“Igor Puzanov, MD, MSCI, FACP, of the division of hematology-oncology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and colleagues sought to evaluate the safety and efficacy of T-VEC in combination with ipilimumab (Yervoy, Bristol-Myers Squibb).”


Immunotherapy Combination Active in Advanced Melanoma

“Combined treatment with the T-cell checkpoint pathway inhibitors nivolumab and ipilimumab produced significantly higher rates of response and progression-free survival among patients with advanced melanoma (regardless of BRAF mutation status) than did treatment with ipilimumab alone, according to the phase I results of a trial published in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented at the 2015 American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting.

“ ‘On the basis of the high degree of tumor reduction in the current study, with a high rate of complete responses, a favorable clinical benefit can be anticipated with longer follow-up,’ wrote study author F. Stephen Hodi, MD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and colleagues.

“The phase I dose-escalation study included 142 patients with treatment-naive metastatic melanoma. Patients were randomly assigned 2:1 to ipilimumab 3 mg/kg with nivolumab 1 mg/kg or placebo every 3 weeks for four doses, followed by nivolumab 3 mg/kg or placebo every 2 weeks.

“In patients with BRAF wild-type tumors, combined treatment resulted in an objective response rate of 61% compared with 11% in those assigned ipilimumab alone (P < .001). Complete responses occurred in 22% of patients assigned to the combined immunotherapy treatment and none of the patients assigned to monotherapy.”


Ipilimumab Improves Survival in High-Risk Stage III Melanoma After Surgery

“Results of an EORTC trial appearing in The Lancet Oncology show that adjuvant Ipilimumab significantly improves recurrence-free survival in patients with completely resected stage III melanoma at high risk of disease recurrence, but that this treatment was also associated with a high rate of immune-related adverse events.

“Prof Alexander M M Eggermont of the Gustave Roussy Cancer Campus and lead author of this study says, ‘Ipilimumab has already been approved as a treatment for patients with advanced melanoma. Our intention with this study was to assess Ipilimumab as an adjuvant treatment for patients with completely resected stage III melanoma at high risk of recurrence. In my experience, this marks both the first clinical trial of an approved drug with an effect on survival in advanced melanoma in the adjuvant setting, and, in this same setting, the first to study an immune checkpoint inhibitor in the adjuvant setting. Our results show that Ipilimumab is active in the adjuvant setting, but the side-effects are considerable.’

“Between 2008 and 2011, the double-blind, phase III EORTC trial 18071 accrued 951 patients who were randomly assigned to receive either Ipilimumab (475 patients) or placebo (476 patients). All patients were included in the intention-to-treat analyses. At a median follow-up of 2.74 years, the median recurrence-free survival was 26.1 months (95% confidence interval (CI) 19.3 – 39.3) in the Ipilimumab group and 17.1 months (95% CI 13.4 – 21.6) in the placebo group (hazard ratio 0.75; 95% CI 0.64 – 0.90; p = 0.0013). The 3-year recurrence-free survival rate was 46.5% (95% CI 41.5 – 51.3) in the Ipilimumab group and 34.8% (30.1 – 39.5) in the placebo group.”


Celldex Therapeutics Announces Initiation of Phase 1/2 Study of Varlilumab in Combination with Ipilimumab and CDX-1401 in Metastatic Melanoma

“Celldex Therapeutics, Inc. (CLDX) today announced the initiation of a Phase 1/2 safety pilot and expansion study examining the investigational combination of varlilumab and ipilimumab (Yervoy(R); Bristol-Myers Squibb) in patients with Stage III or IV metastatic melanoma. Varlilumab is Celldex’s fully human monoclonal antibody that targets CD27, a critical co-stimulatory molecule in the immune activation cascade. Ipilimumab, a recombinant, human monoclonal antibody that blocks CTLA-4, is FDA approved for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic melanoma. In the Phase 2 portion of the study, patients with tumors that express NY-ESO-1 will also receive CDX-1401, Celldex’s off-the-shelf antibody-based dendritic cell vaccine that targets tumors expressing the NY-ESO-1 oncoprotein.

“The three agents in this study were specifically selected because they uniquely intervene at key points of immune regulation and because Celldex has observed enhanced activity in preclinical studies when varlilumab is combined with either checkpoint inhibitors or with vaccines. In addition, this study will also build on previous clinical data from the CDX-1401 experience that suggests that CDX-1401 may predispose patients to better outcome on checkpoint inhibitors, including ipilimumab. “We believe sophisticated combination approaches centered on immunotherapy hold significant promise for the treatment of cancer and, to this end, are committed to exploring novel combinations across a broad array of mechanisms and indications. This latest trial marks the third Phase 1/2 combination study that varlilumab has entered and the first three-drug combination study,” said Thomas Davis, MD, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Celldex Therapeutics.”


Nivolumab Beats Chemotherapy in Melanoma That Has Not Responded to Ipilimumab

“In the phase III CheckMate 037 trial reported in The Lancet Oncology, Weber et al found that treatment with the PD-1 inhibitor nivolumab (Opdivo) resulted in a significantly greater response rate vs chemotherapy as second- or later-line treatment in patients with advanced melanoma progressing after anti–CTLA-4 treatment. Findings in this trial supported the accelerated approval of nivolumab in this setting in December 2014.

“In this open-label trial, 405 patients with unresectable or metastatic melanoma from 90 sites in 14 countries were randomly assigned 2:1 between December 2010 and January 2014 to receive nivolumab (n = 272) or chemotherapy (n = 133). Patients had to have progressed after treatment with ipilimumab (Yervoy) or with ipilimumab and a BRAF inhibitor if they were BRAF V600 mutation–positive. Nivolumab was given at 3 mg/kg intravenously every 2 weeks. Dose delay but not reduction was permitted in nivolumab patients. Investigator’s choice of chemotherapy consisted of dacarbazine 1,000 mg/m2 every 3 weeks or paclitaxel 175 mg/m2 combined with carboplatin area under the curve = 6 every 3 weeks. Treatment was continued until disease progression or unacceptable toxicity. The primary endpoints of the trial are objective response and overall survival. In the current report of the first interim analysis, objective response was assessed after 120 patients had been treated with nivolumab and had a minimum follow-up of 24 weeks…

“The investigators concluded: ‘Nivolumab led to a greater proportion of patients achieving an objective response and fewer toxic effects than with alternative available chemotherapy regimens for patients with advanced melanoma that has progressed after ipilimumab or ipilimumab and a BRAF inhibitor. Nivolumab represents a new treatment option with clinically meaningful durable objective responses in a population of high unmet need.’ ”


Lion Biotechnologies Announces Positive Data From a TIL-Ipilimumab Combination Study in Melanoma

“Lion Biotechnologies, Inc. (Nasdaq: LBIO), a biotechnology company that is developing novel cancer immunotherapies based on tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL), today announced that researchers from Moffitt Cancer Center reported positive results from a pilot trial of TIL and ipilimumab in patients with metastatic melanoma. The data from the trial, which Lion partially sponsored, were presented at the Society of Surgical Oncology 2015 meeting in Houston, TX on Friday, March 27, 2015.

“The Phase 1 trial was conducted at Moffitt Cancer Center in 12 patients with metastatic melanoma, with the objective of determining the safety and feasibility of combining TIL therapy with the CTLA-4 checkpoint inhibitor, ipilimumab. Patients were treated with ipilimumab one week prior to tumor harvest for TIL expansion, a second time while their TIL were being expanded, and two more times following TIL transfer.

“Of the 12 patients enrolled in the trial, 11 went on to receive their autologous TIL, with five out of the 11 TIL-treated patients (46%) responding to treatment (one complete response and four partial responses), consistent with response rates from previous TIL studies in metastatic melanoma. Notably, the researchers observed that following a single infusion of ipilimumab, TIL grew to higher numbers than historically had been observed in previous studies, in which ipilimumab was not administered prior to tumor harvest. In addition, only one of the 12 enrolled patients (8%) was ineligible for TIL transfer, indicating relatively high patient adherence to trial protocol.

” ‘Ipilimumab has potential to enhance the effectiveness of TIL therapy by boosting the concentration of tumor-reactive T cells in the tumors of patients prior to TIL harvest, and by controlling disease before TIL transfer,’ said Sangeetha Prabhakaran, MD, the study’s presenting author. ‘Based on the results of this study, we conclude that TIL-ipilimumab combination treatment is both safe and feasible. Furthermore, this approach serves as a model for future efforts to combine TIL with PD-1/PD-L1 blockade and other emerging immune checkpoint inhibitors.’ “