FDA Approves Neoadjuvant Nivolumab/Chemo for Early-Stage NSCLC

M. Alexander Otto, MMS, PA

March 04, 2022

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved nivolumab for neoadjuvant treatment of non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) in combination with platinum-doublet chemotherapy, regardless of PDL-1 status.

Nivolumab is the first immune checkpoint inhibitor to be approved for resectable NSCLC; its three prior NSCLC indications are for metastatic disease, the agency said in its announcement

Approval was based on the CheckMate 816 trial, which randomized 358 patients evenly to either nivolumab plus platinum doublets or to platinum doublets alone every 3 weeks for up to 3 cycles.

Trial participants had histologically confirmed stage IB, II, or IIIA disease, which was measurable by RECIST criteria. They were enrolled regardless of tumor PD-L1 status.

At surgery, the pathologic complete response rate was 24% in the nivolumab arm versus 2.2% in the chemotherapy-alone group.

Median event-free survival was 31.6 months with nivolumab but 20.8 months without it, which translated to a 37% reduction in the risk for progression, recurrence, or death following surgery. A trend toward better overall survival was not statistically significant, Bristol Myers Squibb said in its own announcement.

Nivolumab's new neoadjuvant indication is for adult patients with resectable NSCLC (tumors ≥ 4 cm or node positive). The recommended dosage is 360 mg in combination with platinum-doublet chemotherapy on the same day every 3 weeks for three cycles.

In a press release from Bristol Myers Squibb, CheckMate 816 investigator and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute thoracic oncologist Mark Awad, MD, PhD, called the approval "a turning point in how we treat resectable NSCLC."

Patients with known EGFR mutations or ALK translocations, grade 2 or higher peripheral neuropathy, active autoimmune disease, or medical conditions requiring systemic immunosuppression were excluded.

There were no fatal adverse events in the nivolumab arm, but 30% of participants had serious adverse events, most commonly pneumonia and vomiting.

The most common side effects across all grades were nausea (38%), constipation (34%), fatigue (26%), decreased appetite (20%), and rash (20%). Surgical complications and hospital lengths were similar between the two study groups.

Rival checkpoint inhibitor pembrolizumab is also being investigated for neoadjuvant NSCLC.

M. Alexander Otto is a physician assistant with a master's degree in medical science and a journalism degree from Newhouse. He is an award-winning medical journalist who worked for several major news outlets before joining Medscape and is also an MIT Knight Science Journalism fellow. Email: aotto@mdedge.com.

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