Conference Coverage

Adding immunotherapy to chemo in lung cancer improves patient outcomes, new data show



Just about every patient-reported outcome favors adding immunotherapy to standard chemotherapy for patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, according to an analysis presented at the annual European Lung Cancer Congress (ELCC) on March 30.

“Overall, it is very clear that chemotherapy plus immunotherapy prolongs the time to symptom deterioration and actually improves symptoms” in this patient population, said study discussant Luis Paz-Ares, MD, PhD, chair of medical oncology at the Hospital Universitario 12 de Octubre, Madrid, who was not involved in the research.

Last September, investigators reported efficacy outcomes from the phase 3 POSEIDON trial, which randomized 1,013 patients with EGFR/ALK wild-type mNSCLC to one of three first-line options: chemotherapy alone, chemotherapy plus the checkpoint inhibitor durvalumab, or chemotherapy plus two check-point inhibitors, durvalumab and tremelimumab. The analysis showed improved progression-free survival in both immunotherapy arms as well as a significant 2.3-month overall survival advantage with dual immunotherapy and a nonsignificant 1.6-month advantage with single agent durvalumab.

At the ELCC meeting, study presenter and lead investigator Edward Garon, MD, reported the latest data on the trial’s secondary endpoints: patient-reported outcomes. Global health status, functioning, and symptom scores were assessed using two questionnaires, the EORTC QLQ-C30 and EORTC QLQ-LC13.

Overall, Dr. Garon and colleagues reported a longer time to deterioration in all three areas – global health status, functioning, and symptoms – for patients who received immunotherapy versus chemotherapy alone, with similar results in both immunotherapy arms.

Time to deterioration in global health status, for instance, was a median of about 8 months on both immunotherapy regimens versus 5.6 months with chemotherapy alone. The positive findings held for many patient-reported treatment side effects, including dyspnea, hemoptysis, nausea/vomiting, and insomnia, but the benefits of adding immunotherapy weren’t always statistically significant.

Adding one or both checkpoint inhibitors to chemotherapy “improved efficacy while delaying deterioration in symptoms, functioning, and [health-related quality of life] versus chemotherapy alone in patients with mNSCLC,” concluded Dr. Garon, a thoracic medical oncologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. Plus, he added, “the pattern was observed across nearly all prespecified symptoms and domains of interest.”

According to study discussant Dr. Paz-Ares, “the data seem to be very consistent with all the trials asking similar questions.” The important thing here is figuring out the ideal candidates for dual inhibitor therapy, he said.

With positive efficacy and patient-reported outcomes for single and dual immunotherapy in this trial, it’s a “relatively straightforward” decision to add immunotherapy to chemotherapy for patients with mNSCLC, Massimo Di Maio, a medical oncologist at the University of Turin, Italy, said in an editorial on the ELCC’s news site.

However, that’s not always the case for every cancer type, which makes patient-reported outcomes “crucial” for determining the right treatment for each patient. Some might opt for a modest survival benefit regardless of the side effects, while others might favor a less toxic approach, even it means not living quite as long, he said.

The problem, he stressed, is that trials often release efficacy data well before patient-reported outcomes, which makes weighing the benefits and risks of a treat-ment option more difficult. The delay between efficacy and patient-reported outcome data was about 6 months in the POSEIDON trial.

“Timing is key when it comes to using [patient reported outcomes] for decision-making in oncology,” Dr. Di Maio said. “In fact, to enable a full assessment of a treatment, results should be published concurrently with the efficacy and safety data. Unfortunately, this is generally not the case.”

POSEIDON was funded by AstraZeneca, which markets durvalumab and is developing tremelimumab. Dr. Garon reported grants from the company. Dr. Paz-Ares reported honoraria and institutional research grants from AstraZeneca. Dr. Di Maio is a consultant for AstraZeneca and reported receiving honoraria and personal fees from the company.

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