Baseline Corticosteroid Use at Start of PD-1/PD-L1 Inhibitor Therapy Negatively Affects Outcomes in NSCLC

SUMMARY: Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both men and women and accounts for about 14% of all new cancers and 27% of all cancer deaths. The American Cancer Society estimates that for 2018 about 234,030 new cases of lung cancer will be diagnosed and over 154,050 patients will die of the disease. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-related mortality in the United States. Non Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) accounts for approximately 85% of all lung cancers. Immunotherapy with PD-1 (Programmed cell Death 1) and PD-L1 (Programmed cell Death Ligand 1) inhibitors have demonstrated a clear survival benefit both as a single agent or in combination, compared with standard chemotherapy, in both treatment-naive and previously treated patients for advanced Non Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC). It is now standard therapy for patients with lung cancer. Immuno-Oncology therapies unleash the T cells by blocking the Immune checkpoint proteins, thereby resulting in T cell proliferation, activation and a therapeutic response.

Patients with NSCLC often are treated with corticosteroids for a variety of reasons including fatigue, dyspnea, decreased appetite, and symptomatic brain metastases. Corticosteroids by virtue of their immunosuppressive properties can potentially effect on T-cell function and for this reason, use of these agents before the start of therapy with PD-(L)1 blockade has been a uniform exclusion criterion in clinical trials of Immune Checkpoint Blockade therapies. It is however becoming increasing clear that corticosteroids use for the management of immune-related adverse events do not seem to negatively impact outcomes. Nonetheless, there are presently no data regarding the impact of corticosteroid use at baseline, on the efficacy of Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors. In this publication, the authors evaluated the potential impact of systemic corticosteroids at the start of Immune Checkpoint Blockade, on the efficacy of PD-(L)1 inhibitors.

The authors in this study identified patients with advanced NSCLC who were treated with single-agent PD-(L)1 inhibitor (Pembrolizumab, Nivolumab, Atezolizumab, or Durvalumab) from two institutions – Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (N=455) and Gustave Roussy Cancer Center (N=185), between April 2011 to September 2017. Clinical and pharmacy records were reviewed to identify corticosteroid use at the time of beginning anti-PD-(L)1 therapy. Information on the use of corticosteroids within 30 days of the start of PD-(L)1 blockade, type of corticosteroid used, indication and route of administration were collected for the MSKCC cohort. Patient characteristics, including age, gender, histology, ECOG Performance Status, and smoking history were collected for all patients. Efficacy outcomes following treatment with PD-(L)1 inhibitors blockade was determined by local radiologists and all patients were followed up until death or data lock.

It was noted that 14% (N=90) of the 640 patients treated with single-agent PD-(L)1 inhibitor received 10 mg or more of prednisone daily at the start of the treatment with a PD-(L)1 inhibitor. The most common indications for treatment with corticosteroids were dyspnea or other respiratory symptoms (33%), fatigue (21%), and brain metastases (19%). Patient characteristics were well balanced between those who did or did not receive corticosteroids, with two exceptions – patients with poor performance status and history of brain metastases were more common in those who received corticosteroids.

In the pooled cohort of patients from both participating institutions, patients receiving baseline corticosteroids compared with patients not receiving corticosteroids experienced a lower Objective Response Rate (7% versus 18%) and worse Progression Free Survival and Overall Survival (P<0.001). The authors performed a multivariable analysis in the pooled cohort (N = 640), incorporating smoking history, performance status, history of brain metastases, and corticosteroid use (Prednisone 10 mg or more versus less than 10 mg), at the start of PD-(L)1 blockade. Prednisone use 10 mg or more was associated with worse Progression Free Survival (P=0.03) and Overall Survival (P<0.001). In the Memorial Sloan Kettering Center cohort of patients, (data unavailable for the Gustave Roussy Cancer Center cohort), patients who discontinued corticosteroids 1-30 days before starting PD-(L)1 blockade had intermediate Progression Free Survival and Overall Survival compared to those who received corticosteroids on the day of PD-(L)1 blockade initiation and those who received no corticosteroids within 30 days of the start of therapy.

The authors concluded that among patients with Non Small Cell Lung Cancer treated with PD-(L)1 blockade, baseline corticosteroid use of 10 mg or more of prednisone equivalent was associated with inferior outcomes. Clinicians should exercise caution and minimize the use, duration, and dose of corticosteroids if immunotherapy with PD-(L)1 blockade is a future consideration. Impact of Baseline Steroids on Efficacy of Programmed Cell Death-1 and Programmed Death-Ligand 1 Blockade in Patients With Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer. Arbour KC, Mezquita L, Long N, et al. J Clin Oncol. 2018;36:2872-2878

Radiotherapy plus ERBITUX® Inferior to Radiotherapy plus Cisplatin in HPV-Positive Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma

SUMMARY: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in the US, there are more than 16,000 cases of Human PapillomaVirus (HPV)-positive OroPharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma (OPSCC) per year and there has been a significant increase in incidence during the past several decades, due to changes in sexual practices. They represent approximately 70% of all OPSCC in the United States and Canada. HPV-positive oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma is an entirely distinct disease entity from HPV-negative oropharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma. Patients with HPV-positive OPSCC tend to be younger males, who are former smokers or nonsmokers, with risk factors for exposure to High Risk HPV (HR-HPV). The HPV-positive primary Squamous Cell Carcinoma tend to be smaller in size, with early nodal metastases, and these patients have a better prognosis compared with patients with HPV-negative Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC), when treated similarly. Expression of tumor suppressor protein, known as p16, is highly correlated with infection with HPV in HNSCC. Accurate HPV assessment in head and neck cancers is becoming important as it significantly impacts clinical management. HPV status is considered the most important prognostic indicator in patients with head and neck cancer and p16 status is now included in the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) Staging System.Parts-of-the-Oropharynx

HPV-positive Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma is more sensitive to chemotherapy and radiotherapy than is HPV-negative Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma, which translates to a much better prognosis and survival, when treated with a combination of Cisplatin chemotherapy and radiotherapy. This treatment however can be associated with substantial morbidity and lifelong toxicities such as dry mouth, difficulty swallowing, and loss of taste. Patients deemed unable to tolerate Cisplatin chemotherapy such as the elderly, and those with poor kidney function, receive ERBITUX® (Cetuximab), an Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor (EGFR) inhibitor with radiotherapy.

ERBITUX® is an EGFR targeted monoclonal antibody and the goal of this present study was to find an alternative to Cisplatin, and this study was designed to see if ERBITUX® with radiation would be less toxic than Cisplatin with radiation, without compromising survival among HPV-positive OPSCC patient population. RTOG 1016 is a randomized, multicentre, non-inferiority, phase III trial which included patients with Human PapillomaVirus (HPV)-positive Oropharyngeal Squamous Cell Carcinoma. This study enrolled 987 patients (N=987) at 182 centers in the US and Canada and enrollees had histologically confirmed HPV-positive Oropharyngeal carcinoma and clinical categories included T1-T2, N2a-N3 M0 or T3-T4, N0-N3 M0 groups. Patients were randomly assigned in a 1:1 ratio to receive either radiotherapy plus ERBITUX®, or radiotherapy plus Cisplatin. Treatment groups were well balanced and were stratified by T (T1–T2 vs T3–T4), N category (N0-N2a vs N2b-N3), and smoking history (10 pack-years or less vs more than 10 pack-years). Patients were randomized to receive either ERBITUX® at a loading dose of 400 mg/m2 IV 5-7 days before radiotherapy initiation, followed by ERBITUX® 250 mg/m2 IV weekly for seven doses (N=425) or Cisplatin 100 mg/m 2 on days 1 and 22 of radiotherapy (N=424). All patients received accelerated Intensity-Modulated RadioTherapy (IMRT) delivered at 70 Gy in 35 fractions over 6 weeks at six fractions per week (with two fractions given on one day, at least 6 hours apart). The Primary endpoint was Overall Survival.

The third and final interim analysis was done after a median follow-up of 4.5 years. Radiotherapy plus ERBITUX® did not meet the non-inferiority criteria for Overall Survival and the estimated 5-year Overall Survival was 77.9% in the ERBITUX® group versus 84.6% in the Cisplatin group, suggesting that the Overall Survival on the ERBITUX® arm was significantly inferior to the Cisplatin arm. Progression Free Survival (PFS) was also significantly lower in the ERBITUX® group compared with the Cisplatin group, with a 5-year PFS of 67.3% versus 78.4%, respectively. Five year locoregional failure rates were significantly higher in the ERBITUX® group compared with the Cisplatin group (17.3% versus 9.9%, respectively. Serious (grade 3-5) adverse events were similar for patients in both treatment groups and as expected, toxicities were different, with adverse events of renal toxicity, hearing loss, and bone marrow suppression more common in patients in the Cisplatin group, where as body rash was more common in the ERBITUX® group. All patients in this study were able to complete therapy at the time of this analysis.

It was concluded that this trial is the first randomized clinical trial specifically designed for patients with HPV-positive Oropharyngeal cancer, and among this patient group, radiotherapy plus ERBITUX® showed inferior Overall Survival and Progression Free Survival compared with radiotherapy plus Cisplatin. Radiotherapy plus Cisplatin should therefore be the standard of care for eligible patients with HPV-positive Oropharyngeal carcinoma. Radiotherapy plus cetuximab or cisplatin in human papillomavirus-positive oropharyngeal cancer (NRG Oncology RTOG 1016): a randomised, multicentre, non-inferiority trial. Gillison ML, Trotti AM, Harris J, et al. Published:November 15, 2018. DOI:

ELZONRIS® (Tagraxofusp-erzs)

The FDA on December 21, 2018 approved ELZONRIS®, a CD123-directed cytotoxin, for Blastic Plasmacytoid Dendritic Cell Neoplasm (BPDCN) in adults and in pediatric patients 2 years and older. ELZONRIS® is a product of Stemline Therapeutics.

ASPARLAS® (Calaspargase pegol-mknl)

The FDA on December 20, 2018 approved ASPARLAS®, an asparagine specific enzyme, as a component of a multi-agent chemotherapeutic regimen for Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) in pediatric and young adult patients age 1 month to 21 years. This new product provides for a longer interval between doses compared to other available pegaspargase products. ASPARLAS® is a product of Servier Pharmaceuticals LLC.

LYNPARZA® (Olaparib)

The FDA on December 19, 2018 approved LYNPARZA® for the maintenance treatment of adult patients with deleterious or suspected deleterious germline or somatic BRCA-mutated (gBRCAm or sBRCAm) advanced epithelial ovarian, fallopian tube or primary peritoneal cancer, who are in Complete or Partial Response to first-line platinum-based chemotherapy. LYNPARZA® is a product of AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals LP.

NPLATE® (Romiplostim)

The FDA on December 14, 2018 approved NPLATE® for pediatric patients 1 year of age and older with Immune Thrombocytopenia (ITP) for at least 6 months, who have had an insufficient response to corticosteroids, immunoglobulins, or splenectomy. NPLATE® is a product of Amgen Inc.

TECENTRIQ® (Atezolizumab)

The FDA on December 6, 2018 approved TECENTRIQ® in combination with AVASTIN® (Bevacizumab), TAXOL® (Paclitaxel), and Carboplatin for the first-line treatment of patients with metastatic non-squamous, Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSq NSCLC) with no EGFR or ALK genomic tumor aberrations. TECENTRIQ® is a product of Genentech, Inc.