COLORECTAL CANCER: A small neoadjuvant study reported responses to combined PD-L1 + CTLA-4 blockade in both MSI+ (100% pathological response, 95% MPR) and MSI-negative (27% pathological response, 20% MPR) tumours.
Neoadjuvant immunotherapy leads to pathological responses in MMR-proficient and MMR-deficient early-stage colon cancers
PD-1 plus CTLA-4 blockade is highly effective in advanced-stage, mismatch repair (MMR)-deficient (dMMR) colorectal cancers, yet not in MMR-proficient (pMMR) tumors. We postulated a higher efficacy of neoadjuvant immunotherapy in early-stage colon cancers. In the exploratory NICHE study (ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT03026140), patients with dMMR or pMMR tumors received a single dose of ipilimumab and two doses of nivolumab before surgery, the pMMR group with or without celecoxib. The primary objective was safety and feasibility; 40 patients with 21 dMMR and 20 pMMR tumors were treated, and 3 patients received nivolumab monotherapy in the safety run-in. Treatment was well tolerated and all patients underwent radical resections without delays, meeting the primary endpoint. Of the patients who received ipilimumab + nivolumab (20 dMMR and 15 pMMR tumors), 35 were evaluable for efficacy and translational endpoints. Pathological response was observed in 20/20 (100%; 95% exact confidence interval (CI): 86–100%) dMMR tumors, with 19 major pathological responses (MPRs, ≤10% residual viable tumor) and 12 pathological complete responses. In pMMR tumors, 4/15 (27%; 95% exact CI: 8–55%) showed pathological responses, with 3 MPRs and 1 partial response. CD8+PD-1+ T cell infiltration was predictive of response in pMMR tumors. These data indicate that neoadjuvant immunotherapy may have the potential to become the standard of care for a defined group of colon cancer patients when validated in larger studies with at least 3 years of disease-free survival data.