Hans J. Hammers, MD, PhD
PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors, including nivolumab, atezolizumab, and avelumab, will likely play a major role as the backbone of combination therapy for patients with renal cell carcinoma (RCC). The agents "are going to disrupt the current treatment paradigm and will likely be the backbone of combination therapy,” said Hans J. Hammers, MD, PhD, during his presentation at the 16th Annual Society of Urologic Oncology, December 2-4, in Washington, DC.1
“There’s a plethora of PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors undergoing clinical development in renal cell carcinoma (RCC), with nivolumab the most advanced, followed by atezolizumab and avelumab,” he explained. Hammers, an assistant professor of oncology at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center and Johns Hopkins Medicine, in Baltimore, Maryland, provided an overview of some of the current research and posed some provocative questions to consider as the role of these agents in combination therapy is delineated.
He first highlighted data by Sharma et al, presented during the 2015 European Cancer Congress, which involved nivolumab versus everolimus in patients with advanced RCC. In that trial, CheckMate-025, the PD-1 inhibitor reduced the risk of death by 27% and showed an improved overall survival (OS) of 5.4 months. Findings were simultaneously published in The New England Journal of Medicine
CheckMate-025 randomized 821 previously treated patients with advanced or metastatic clear-cell RCC in a 1:1 ratio to 3 mg/kg of intravenous (IV) nivolumab every 2 weeks or 10 mg of oral everolimus daily until progression or unacceptable toxicity. Prior treatment with one or two antiangiogenic treatment regimens for advanced or metastatic disease was required, along with evidence of disease progression within 6 months of enrollment. In that trial, OS was the primary endpoint, while secondary outcome measures included objective response rate (ORR) and progression-free survival (PFS). At a minimum follow-up of 14 months, the median OS was 25.0 months with nivolumab versus 19.6 months with everolimus (HR, 0.73; 98.5% CI, 0.57-0.93; P
= .002). The difference was statistically significant, meeting the criteria established in the trial design of P ≤.0148. The OS benefit was observed across patient subgroups, including cohorts defined by geography, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center prognostic score, and number of prior antiangiogenic regimens.
The trial was stopped early after meeting the primary OS endpoint, and eligible patients in the everolimus cohort were allowed to cross over and receive nivolumab in an open-label extension of the study. Median PFS was 4.6 and 4.4 months in the nivolumab and everolimus arms, respectively (HR, 0.88; 95% CI, 0.75-1.03; P
= .11). The researchers noted that there was a delayed separation of the PFS Kaplan-Meier curves. To further examine the results, they conducted an ad hoc sensitivity analysis of PFS in patients who had not progressed at 6 months. The median PFS in this cohort was 15.6 months with nivolumab versus 11.7 months with everolimus (HR, 0.64; 95% CI, 0.47-0.88).
“That was the elephant in the room,” said Hammers. “Everolimus, considered a ‘weak’ targeted therapy, and nivolumab, had similar time to PFS graphs. But starting at 9 months, there was a separation, which was driven by the response rates,” he said. Traditionally, response rates are not considered a primary endpoint, but in these patients, the response rates were very durable. “This allows us to identify the patient population that can derive the most benefit from these drugs.”
According to Hammers, toward the end of the curve for PFS, the part of the curve usually not considered for regulatory approval, a separation in PFS rates became significant. “We see that there is some lasting benefit over time, which is something that we do not fully understand yet. What we will want to know down the road, maybe 2 or 3 years from now, is are we going to see the tail end of that curve? Are there patients who are potentially cured?”
Hammers commented on the impressive response rates associated with nivolumab. “To see a response rate of 25% in a second- or third-line agent is impressive. To put that into context, the currently approved United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agent axitinib, indicated as second-line therapy for patients who have been previously treated with sunitinib, has a response rate around 11%.”
Perhaps the most compelling research involving PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors is their potential role in combination therapy. “If one immune checkpoint inhibitor works well, what about combining two different ones?” asked Hammers.
For patients with melanoma, this idea has been well documented.