Neoadjuvant KEYTRUDA® Plus Chemotherapy Improves Pathological Complete Response in Triple Negative Breast Cancer

SUMMARY: Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the US and about 1 in 8 women (13%) will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime. Approximately 276,480 new cases of invasive female breast cancer will be diagnosed in 2020 and about 42,170 women will die of the disease.

Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC) is a heterogeneous, molecularly diverse group of breast cancers and are ER (Estrogen Receptor), PR (Progesterone Receptor) and HER2 (Human Epidermal Growth Factor Receptor-2) negative. TNBC accounts for 15-20% of invasive breast cancers, with a higher incidence noted in young patients. It is usually aggressive, and tumors tend to be high grade and patients with TNBC are at a higher risk of both local and distant recurrence. Those with metastatic disease have one of the worst prognoses of all cancers with a median Overall Survival of 13 months. The majority of patients with TNBC who develop metastatic disease do so within the first 3 years after diagnosis, whereas those without recurrence during this period of time have survival rates similar to those with ER-positive breast cancers. The lack of known recurrent oncogenic drivers in patients with metastatic TNBC, presents a major therapeutic challenge. Nonetheless, patients with TNBC often receive chemotherapy in the neoadjuvant, adjuvant or metastatic settings and approximately 30-40% of patients achieve a pathological Complete Response (pCR) in the neoadjuvant setting. In addition to increasing the likelihood of tumor resectability and breast preservation, patients achieving a pCR following neoadjuvant chemotherapy have a longer Event Free Survival (EFS) and Overall Survival (OS). Those who do not achieve a pathological Complete Response tend to have a poor prognosis. For all these reasons, pCR is considered a valid endpoint for clinical testing of neoadjuvant therapy in patients with early stage TNBC. It appears that there are subsets of patients with TNBC who may be inherently insensitive to cytotoxic chemotherapy. Three treatment approaches appear to be promising and they include immune therapies, PARP inhibition and inhibition of PI3K pathway. Previously published studies have shown that presence of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes was associated with clinical benefit, when treated with chemotherapy and immunotherapy, in patients with TNBC, and improved clinical benefit was observed in patients with immune-enriched molecular subtypes of metastatic TNBC.

KEYTRUDA® (Pembrolizumab) is a fully humanized, Immunoglobulin G4, anti-PD-1, monoclonal antibody, that binds to the PD-1 receptor and blocks its interaction with ligands PD-L1 and PD-L2. It thereby reverses the PD-1 pathway-mediated inhibition of the immune response and unleashes the tumor-specific effector T cells. Cytotoxic chemotherapy releases tumor-specific antigens and immune checkpoint inhibitors such as KEYTRUDA® when given along with chemotherapy can enhance endogenous anticancer immunity. Preliminary results from Phase I and II trials have shown that in patients with TNBC, KEYTRUDA® given along with chemotherapy in a neoadjuvant setting resulted in a high rate of pCR.

KEYNOTE-522 is an international, placebo controlled Phase III trial, conducted to evaluate the safety and efficacy of neoadjuvant KEYTRUDA® plus chemotherapy followed by adjuvant KEYTRUDA® or placebo, in patients with early stage TNBC. In this study, 1,174 patients were randomly assigned in a 2:1 ratio to receive neoadjuvant KEYTRUDA® 200 mg IV every 3 weeks (N=784) or placebo (N=390). All patients received 4 cycles of Carboplatin plus Paclitaxel, followed by 4 cycles of Doxorubicin or Epirubicin plus Cyclophosphamide, in the neoadjuvant setting. Following definitive surgery, adjuvant KEYTRUDA® or placebo was continued every 3 weeks for 9 cycles or until disease recurrence or unacceptable toxicity. Enrolled TNBC patients were newly diagnosed, treatment naïve, and included both node-negative and node-positive patients with nonmetastatic disease (Tumor Stage T1c, Nodal Stage N1-N2 or Tumor Stage T2-T4, Nodal Stage N0-N2, per AJCC criteria). Treatment groups were well balanced and patients were stratified according to nodal status, tumor size, and Carboplatin schedule (weekly versus every 3 weeks). The two Primary endpoints were pathological Complete Response (pCR) at the time of definitive surgery and Event Free Survival (EFS). The median follow up was 15.5 months.

At the first interim analysis, the pCR among the first 602 patients who underwent randomization was 64.8% in the KEYTRUDA® plus chemotherapy group, compared with 51.2% in the placebo plus chemotherapy group (P<0.001). This pCR benefit was consistent across subgroups including PD-L1 expresssion subgroups. In the PD-L1-positive population, the pCR was 68.9% in the KEYTRUDA® plus chemotherapy group compared with 54.9% in the placebo plus chemotherapy group. In the PD-L1 negative group, the pCR in the KEYTRUDA® plus chemotherapy group was 45.3% and 30.3% in the placebo plus chemotherapy group. Neoadjuvant KEYTRUDA® plus chemotherapy followed by adjuvant KEYTRUDA® showed a favorable trend for Event Free Survival compared with chemotherapy alone, although these data are still premature. Across all treatment phases, Grade 3 or higher treatment-related toxicities were 78.0% in the KEYTRUDA® plus chemotherapy group and 73.0% in the placebo plus chemotherapy group.

It was concluded that among patients with early stage Triple Negative Breast Cancer, the addition of KEYTRUDA® to neoadjuvant chemotherapy significantly increased the pathological Complete Response rate, compared to those who received placebo plus neoadjuvant chemotherapy, with a favorable trend in Event Free Survival. Pembrolizumab for Early Triple-Negative Breast Cancer. Schmid P, Cortés J, Pusztai L, et al. for the KEYNOTE-522 Investigators. N Engl J Med 2020;382:810-821