ESMO 2021: Impressive Clinical Research Despite Pandemic

Liam Davenport

September 09, 2021

The ever-widening role of immunotherapy for diseases not usually associated with these revolutionary drugs, such as gynecologic and gastrointestinal cancers, will be a key feature of new clinical data that will be presented at the forthcoming European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2021.

The meeting, which will be held online from September 16 to 21, will also see headlining results from immunotherapy trials in melanoma, lung cancer, and prostate cancer, as well as studies of the impact of COVID-19 vaccination in cancer patients.

"This is the second year of the virtual ESMO meeting, and this is important because the pandemic and the lockdown have impacted our clinical practice and research," said conference press spokesman Antonio Passaro, MD, PhD, from the Division of Thoracic Oncology at the European Institute of Oncology, in Milan, Italy.

"But when you look at the submitted abstracts and the data that will be presented during ESMO, we can see that clinical research has been 'resurrected,' " he told Medscape Medical News.

A huge amount of "high-quality" data will be presented, said Passaro, which is "important," inasmuch as this is the second year of the pandemic.

He underlined that it is "crucial" to remember that "the pandemic affected not only the lives and quality of life of our patients but also healthcare systems and the work and quality of life of healthcare professionals."

A large amount of the new clinical data to be presented at the meeting will focus on the role of immune checkpoint inhibitors in various types of cancer, Passaro commented. Many of these will be featured in the three Presidential Symposia that will be held on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

These include KEYNOTE-716, a trial comparing the adjuvant use of pembrolizumab (Keytruda) to placebo after complete resection of high-risk stage II melanoma (abstract LBA3), and an analysis of the IMpower010 trial that will investigate the sites of relapse and subsequent therapy with atezolizumab (Tecentriq) in comparison with best supportive care after adjuvant chemotherapy in stage IB-IIIA non–small cell lung cancer (abstract LBA9).

Passaro commented that it is "interesting to note" that the immunotherapy data at ESMO 2021 will not only be in these "classical diseases in which immunotherapy improves survival" but also in different types of cancer, thus "widening the opportunity for our patients" to benefit.

There will be "important results" for immune checkpoint inhibitors for gynecologic cancers, as well as colorectal and gastric cancers, "which is a key topic for this ESMO meeting," he said.

Other highlights from the Presidential Symposia include the following:

  • Results from the phase 3 KEYNOTE-826 study of pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy vs placebo plus chemotherapy for persistent, recurrent, or metastatic cervical cancer (abstract LBA2_PR)

  • Results from the CheckMate 649 study, which examined nivolumab (Opdivo) plus chemotherapy or ipilimumab (Yervoy) in comparison with chemotherapy as first-line treatment for advanced gastric cancer/gastroesophageal junction cancer/esophageal adenocarcinoma (abstract LBA7)

  • Results from KRYSTAL-1, a phase 1/2 trial of the investigational agent adagrasib (MRTX849, Mirati Therapeutics) as monotherapy or combined with cetuximab for patients with colorectal cancer harboring a KRASG12C mutation (abstract LBA6)

  • Data from FIRSTMAPPP, the first international randomized study of malignant progressive pheochromocytoma and paragangliomas comparing sunitinib (Sutent) with placebo (abstract 567O_PR)

  • A combined analysis from the STAMPEDE protocol comparing androgen-deprivation therapy (ADT) alone to abiraterone acetate plus prednisolone, with or without enzalutamide, added to ADT for men with high-risk nonmetastatic prostate cancer (abstract LBA4_PR)

  • Results from later-stage disease in men with de novo metastatic castration-sensitive prostate cancer enrolled in PEACE-1, a phase 3 trial investigating overall survival with abiraterone acetate plus prednisone (abstract LBA5_PR)

In addition, Passaro noted that data will be presented on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cancer patients, as well as "interesting results" on the effect of COVID-19 vaccination on patients and their treatment, which is "crucial for all of us" to know. For example, the CAPTURE substudy of the TRACERx Renal trial will examine adaptive immunity to SARS-CoV-2 infection and vaccination in cancer patients (abstract 1557O).

Also in the same session, data will be presented from the VOICE study on vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 in patients receiving chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or chemo-immunotherapy for solid tumors (abstract LBA8).

At a press conference held ahead of the meeting, Pasi A. Jänne, MD, PhD, from the Dana Farber Cancer Center, Boston, Massachusetts, who is the scientific co-chair of ESMO 2021, highlighted precision medicine as a key theme of the meeting.

He said that this is something the oncology community is "actively implementing worldwide to continue to make progress in cancer therapies and as such improve the outcomes of our patients."

European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO) 2021.

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