AT ASCO 2017

CHICAGO (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Immune therapy shows promise for use in the treatment of melanoma brain metastases, especially for treatment-naive patients, judging from the findings of a new phase II randomized study.

For patients with asymptomatic brain metastases from melanoma who had not had prior treatment, nivolumab combined with ipilimumab produced a 50% intracranial response rate after at least 12 weeks of therapy. When nivolumab alone was given to untreated patients, the intracranial response rate was 21%, Georgina Long MD, PhD, co–medical director of the Melanoma Institute Australia , said during a video interview at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

“If you look at progression-free survival by response, none of our complete responders have progressed,” said Dr. Long. “And this is with a median follow-up of 16.4 months.” The partial responders have also done well, with little progression, she said. “Remember, these patients usually survive only a few weeks.”

The Anti-PD1 Brain Collaboration study, a phase II clinical trial, enrolled patients with melanoma brain metastases at least 5 mm but less than 40 mm in diameter who had not received previous anti-cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein 4 (anti-CTLA-4), anti-programmed cell death protein 1 (anti-PD-1), or anti-programmed death-ligand 1 (anti-PD-L1) therapies. Patients were permitted to have had previous BRAF and MEK inhibitor therapies. Asymptomatic patients who had no previous local brain therapy (i.e., radiation treatment or surgery) were randomized 1:1 to receive nivolumab alone, or nivolumab plus ipilimumab.

The nivolumab arm received 3 mg/kg by intravenous infusion every 2 weeks. The combination arm began with nivolumab 1 mg/kg and ipilimumab 3 mg/kg every 3 weeks for four doses. After this, they also received nivolumab 3 mg/kg monotherapy every 2 weeks.

The third cohort – a small group of 15 patients who received nivolumab alone – either had symptomatic brain metastases or leptomeningeal disease and could have had previous brain surgery or radiotherapy. Unlike the first two cohorts, they were also permitted to be on up to 10 mg/day of prednisone; these patients received nivolumab alone at 3 mg/kg every 2 weeks.

For all patients, immune therapy was given until the disease progressed, consent was withdrawn, or patients experienced unacceptable toxicity or they died.

“We were most interested in the randomized cohorts,” said Dr. Long. Interestingly, she said, ipilimumab became available in Australia when 27 patients were enrolled in the nivolumab arm and 26 to the combination arm. “So we stopped the monotherapy arm, and the rest of the 60 patients to be recruited all went into the combination arm,” she said. A total of 76 patients were recruited, 33 into the combination arm, 27 to the asymptomatic nivolumab monotherapy arm, and 16 to the symptomatic and/or previously treated arm.

Data analysis from the point of the data cut included 67 patients who were followed for a period ranging from 5 to 34 months. Intracranial disease was evaluated by gadolinium-enhanced MRI and modified Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors (RECIST) 1.1 criteria.

“The results of the trial were very interesting,” said Dr. Long. The nivolumab plus ipilimumab combo resulted in an overall 42% intracranial response rate, while nivolumab alone produced an overall intracranial response rate of 21%. However, patients in either arm who had prior BRAF or MEK inhibitor exposure “didn’t do too well on immunotherapy,” said Dr. Long, noting that the response rate was just 16% for these patients. These were, she said, “small numbers, but still, an interesting signal there.”

When comparing the secondary endpoint of extracranial response to intracranial response on a per-patient basis, Dr. Long and her collaborators could see that “the intracranial and extracranial results were mostly concordant.”

Analysis of the additional secondary endpoints of progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS) also showed an interesting pattern, said Dr. Long. After an initial drop-off period of about 5 months, the curves for patients in all arms have stabilized, so that patients who were responders are maintaining that response. The overall 6-month PFS rate for the combination cohort was 47%, with a durable response: “If you look at the curve, it’s flattened out since that stage, and we haven’t had any progression since that time,” said Dr. Long. The PFS rate was 29% for the cohort receiving nivolumab alone. “Activity is highest when nivolumab and ipilimumab are given upfront,” said Dr. Long.

For asymptomatic patients pretreated with BRAF or MEK inhibitors, “activity is low,” said Dr. Long, with an intracranial response rate of 16% in both cohorts.

Symptomatic patients who were more heavily pretreated fared even worse: “The activity of nivolumab monotherapy is low after multiple modality therapy or in leptomeningeal melanoma,” said Dr. Long. The intracranial response rate in the third cohort was just 6%.

The combination therapy cohort had the most treatment-related adverse events, with 96% of patients experiencing some adverse event. About half (12/26, 46%) had grade 3 or 4 events, and the same number had a serious adverse event. Seven patients (27%) discontinued therapy because of treatment-related adverse events in the combination study arm. However, said Dr. Long, this side effect profile is in keeping with what has been seen in other studies of combination therapy with nivolumab and ipilimumab. “There were not unexpected adverse events,” she said.

Dr. Long reported relationships with Bristol-Myers Squibb, Merck, and Roche.

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