Conference Coverage

Study: Immune checkpoint inhibitors don’t increase risk of death in cancer patients with COVID-19



Immune checkpoint inhibition was not associated with an increased mortality risk from COVID-19 in patients with cancer in an international observational study.

The study included 113 cancer patients who had laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 within 12 months of receiving immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy. The patients did not receive chemotherapy within 3 months of testing positive for COVID-19.

In all, 33 patients were admitted to the hospital, including 6 who were admitted to the ICU, and 9 patients died.

“Nine out of 113 patients is a mortality rate of 8%, which is in the middle of the earlier reported rates for cancer patients in general [7.6%-12%],” said Aljosja Rogiers, MD, PhD, of the Melanoma Institute Australia in Sydney.

COVID-19 was the primary cause of death in seven of the patients, including three of those who were admitted to the ICU, Dr. Rogiers noted.

He reported these results during the AACR virtual meeting: COVID-19 and Cancer.

Study details

Patients in this study were treated at 19 hospitals in North America, Europe, and Australia, and the data cutoff was May 15, 2020. Most patients (64%) were treated in Europe, which was the epicenter for the COVID-19 pandemic at the time of data collection, Dr. Rogiers noted. A third of patients were in North America, and 3% were in Australia.

The patients’ median age was 63 years (range, 27-86 years). Most patients were men (65%), and most had Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group performance scores of 0-1 (90%).

The most common malignancies were melanoma (57%), non–small cell lung cancer (17%), and renal cell carcinoma (9%). Treatment was for early cancer in 26% of patients and for advanced cancer in 74%. Comorbidities included cardiovascular disease in 27% of patients, diabetes in 15%, pulmonary disease in 12%, and renal disease in 5%.

Immunosuppressive therapy equivalent to a prednisone dose of 10 mg or greater daily was given in 13% of patients, and other immunosuppressive therapies, such as infliximab, were given in 3%.

Among the 60% of patients with COVID-19 symptoms, 68% had fever, 59% had cough, 34% had dyspnea, and 15% had myalgia. Most of the 40% of asymptomatic patients were tested because they had COVID-19–positive contact, Dr. Rogiers noted.

Immune checkpoint inhibitor treatment included monotherapy with a programmed death–1/PD–ligand 1 inhibitor in 82% of patients, combination anti-PD-1 and anti-CTLA4 therapy in 13%, and other therapy – usually a checkpoint inhibitor combined with a different type of targeted agent – in 5%.

At the time of COVID-19 diagnosis, 30% of patients had achieved a partial response, complete response, or had no evidence of disease, 18% had stable disease, and 15% had progression. Response data were not available in 37% of cases, usually because treatment was only recently started prior to COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Rogiers said.

Treatments administered for COVID-19 included antibiotic therapy in 25% of patients, oxygen therapy in 20%, glucocorticoids in 10%, antiviral drugs in 6%, and intravenous immunoglobulin or anti–interleukin-6 in 2% each.

Among patients admitted to the ICU, 3% required mechanical ventilation, 2% had vasopressin, and 1% received renal replacement therapy.

At the data cutoff, 20 of 33 hospitalized patients (61%) had been discharged, and 4 (12%) were still in the hospital.


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