Overall Survival Benefit with Pembrolizumab in Advanced Gastric Cancer

SUMMARY: The American Cancer Society estimates that in the US about 26,500 new gastric cancer cases will be diagnosed in 2023 and about 11,130 people will die of the disease. It is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in the world. Several hereditary syndromes such as Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer (HDGC), Lynch syndrome (Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer) and Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) have been associated with a predisposition for Gastric cancer. Additionally, one of the strongest risk factor for Gastric adenocarcinoma is infection with Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori), which is a gram-negative, spiral-shaped microaerophilic bacterium.

Patients with localized disease (Stage II and Stage III) are often treated with multimodality therapy and 40% of the patients may survive for 5 years or more. However, majority of the patients with Gastric and GastroEsophageal junction Adenocarcinoma have advanced disease at the time of initial presentation and have limited therapeutic options with little or no chance for cure. These patients frequently are treated with Platinum containing chemotherapy along with a Fluoropyrimidine and, if appropriate, HER2/neu-targeted therapy. This can however be associated with significant toxicities impacting patient’s quality of life. The efficacy of PD-1 inhibitors in combination with chemotherapy has been demonstrated in Gastric and GastroEsophageal cancer.

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.

KEYNOTE-859 was a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized Phase III trial, conducted to evaluate the benefit of adding Pembrolizumab to Fluoropyrimidine and Platinum-containing doublet chemotherapy in patients with advanced HER2-negative Gastric or GastroEsophageal cancer. In this study, 1,579 patients with locally advanced or metastatic HER2-negative Gastric or GastroEsophageal adenocarcinoma, with known a PD-L1 Combined Positive Score (CPS), were randomly assigned 1:1 to receive Pembrolizumab 200 mg IV (N=790) or placebo (N=789), every 3 weeks for 35 cycles or less, given along with investigator’s choice of 5-FU plus Cisplatin or Capecitabine plus Oxaliplatin (CAPOX). Baseline characteristics were balanced between treatment groups and randomization was stratified by region, PD-L1 CPS (less than 1 versus 1 or more), and choice of chemotherapy. At baseline, 78% of patients had PD-L1 CPS 1 or more, while 35% had tumors with CPS 10 or more.

The Primary end point was Overall Survival (OS) by blinded Independent Central Review. Secondary end points included Progression Free Survival (PFS), Objective Response Rate (ORR), Duration of Response (DOR) and Safety. The researchers provided the data from the interim analysis, at a median follow up of 31.0 months.

The median Overall Survival was 12.9 months with Pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy versus 11.5 months with chemotherapy alone (HR=0.78, P<0.0001). The median PFS was 6.9 months versus 5.6 months, respectively (HR=0.76, P<0.0001). The benefit with Pembrolizumab was consistent across subgroups, including those by PD-L1 CPS. The risk reduction was especially notable among patients with MicroSatellite Instability (MSI)-High status, who had a 66% relative reduction in the risk of death, and patients with PD-L1 CPS 10 or more, whose risk was reduced by 36%. The Objective Response Rate was 51.3% in the Pembrolizumab group and 42.0% in the control group (P=0.00009), and the median Duration of Response was 8.0 months versus 5.7 months, respectively. Immune-related toxicities, especially hypothyroidism, were more common with Pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy and no new safety signals were seen.

It was concluded that treatment with Pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy resulted in a statistically significant and clinically meaningful improvement in Overall Survival, Progression Free Survival and Objective Response Rate, among patients with locally advanced or metastatic, HER2-negative Gastric or GastroEsophageal adenocarcinoma of any PD-L1 expression level, thus providing a new treatment option for this patient group.

Pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy as first-line therapy for advanced HER2-negative gastric or gastroesophageal junction cancer: Phase III KEYNOTE-859 study. Rha SY, Wyrwicz LS, Weber PEY, et al. ESMO Virtual Plenary Session Date: 16-17 February 2023. VP1-2023. Published: February 16, 2023. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.annonc.2023.01.006.