FDA Approves Chemo-Free Combo for Lung Cancer

Nick Mulcahy

May 15, 2020

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today approved the combination of nivolumab (Opdivo, Bristol-Myers Squibb) plus ipilimumab (Yervoy, Bristol-Myers Squibb) as first-line treatment for patients with metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) whose tumors express PD-L1 (≥ 1%).

Use is limited to patients with no epidermal growth factor receptor or anaplastic lymphoma kinase genomic tumor aberrations.

The FDA also approved a companion diagnostic device, the PD-L1 IHC 28-8 pharmDx (Agilent Technologies), for identifying patients appropriate for the combination treatment.

The approval is based on results from the CHECKMATE-227 study, a randomized, open-label, multipart trial in patients with metastatic or recurrent NSCLC and no prior anticancer therapy.

The findings were first presented at the 2019 European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO 2019) annual meeting, and simultaneously published online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In Part 1a of the trial, 793 patients were randomly assigned to receive either the combination of nivolumab plus ipilimumab (n = 396) or platinum-doublet chemotherapy (n = 397). Median overall survival was 17.1 months versus 14.9 (hazard ratio, 0.79; 95% confidence interval, 0.67, 0.94; P = .006). Confirmed overall response rate was 36% and 30%.

Median response duration was 23.2 months in the nivolumab-plus-ipilimumab group versus 6.2 months in the platinum-doublet-chemotherapy group.

The most common adverse reactions in 20% or more of patients receiving the combination of nivolumab plus ipilimumab in CHECKMATE-227 were fatigue, rash, decreased appetite, musculoskeletal pain, diarrhea/colitis, dyspnea, cough, pruritus, nausea, and hepatitis.

At ESMO 2019, study investigator Solange Peters, MD, PhD, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois, Lausanne, Switzerland, called the results "practice changing."

But Marina C. Garassino, MD, head of thoracic medical oncology at the National Cancer Institute of Milan, Italy, had a different opinion. She said that although the results "show we have a new treatment option for the first-line treatment of metastatic NSCLC...we don't yet know if the findings are practice changing."

Garassino added that more work is needed to determine which patients are optimally treated with two immunotherapies, with a combination of chemotherapy and immunotherapy, or just with a single agent.

The recommended doses for metastatic NSCLC are nivolumab 3 mg/kg every 2 weeks and ipilimumab 1 mg/kg every 6 weeks until disease progression or unacceptable toxicity, or up to 2 years in patients without disease progression.

More information about the approval is available on the FDA website.

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