HEAD & NECK CANCER: In the phase 3 KEYNOTE-048 trial, pembrolizumab (aPD-1) plus chemotherapy was superior as first line therapy to cetuximab plus chemotherapy in patients with metastatic or locally incurable recurrent disease, regard

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Dec. 2, 2019

SCIENTIFIC

“Pembrolizumab alone or with chemotherapy versus cetuximab with chemotherapy for recurrent or metastatic squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (KEYNOTE-048): a randomised, open-label, phase 3 study” Burtness B. et al; The Lancet Volume 394, issue 10212, p1915-1928, November 23, 2019

https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(19)32591-7/fulltext

Background

Pembrolizumab is active in head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), with programmed cell death ligand 1 (PD-L1) expression associated with improved response.

Findings

Between April 20, 2015, and Jan 17, 2017, 882 participants were allocated to receive pembrolizumab alone (n=301), pembrolizumab with chemotherapy (n=281), or cetuximab with chemotherapy (n=300); of these, 754 (85%) had CPS of 1 or more and 381 (43%) had CPS of 20 or more. At the second interim analysis, pembrolizumab alone improved overall survival versus cetuximab with chemotherapy in the CPS of 20 or more population (median 14·9 months vs 10·7 months, hazard ratio [HR] 0·61 [95% CI 0·45–0·83], p=0·0007) and CPS of 1 or more population (12·3 vs 10·3, 0·78 [0·64–0·96], p=0·0086) and was non-inferior in the total population (11·6 vs 10·7, 0·85 [0·71–1·03]). Pembrolizumab with chemotherapy improved overall survival versus cetuximab with chemotherapy in the total population (13·0 months vs 10·7 months, HR 0·77 [95% CI 0·63–0·93], p=0·0034) at the second interim analysis and in the CPS of 20 or more population (14·7 vs 11·0, 0·60 [0·45–0·82], p=0·0004) and CPS of 1 or more population (13·6 vs 10·4, 0·65 [0·53–0·80], p<0·0001) at final analysis. Neither pembrolizumab alone nor pembrolizumab with chemotherapy improved progression-free survival at the second interim analysis. At final analysis, grade 3 or worse all-cause adverse events occurred in 164 (55%) of 300 treated participants in the pembrolizumab alone group, 235 (85%) of 276 in the pembrolizumab with chemotherapy group, and 239 (83%) of 287 in the cetuximab with chemotherapy group. Adverse events led to death in 25 (8%) participants in the pembrolizumab alone group, 32 (12%) in the pembrolizumab with chemotherapy group, and 28 (10%) in the cetuximab with chemotherapy group.

Interpretation

Based on the observed efficacy and safety, pembrolizumab plus platinum and 5-fluorouracil is an appropriate first-line treatment for recurrent or metastatic HNSCC and pembrolizumab monotherapy is an appropriate first-line treatment for PD-L1-positive recurrent or metastatic HNSCC.