SUMMARY: The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2021, about 81,560 people will be diagnosed with Non Hodgkin Lymphoma (NHL) in the United States and about 20,720 individuals will die of this disease. Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma (DLBCL) is the most common of the aggressive Non-Hodgkin lymphoma’s in the United States, and the incidence has steadily increased 3-4% each year. More than half of patients are 65 or older at the time of diagnosis and the incidence is likely to increase with aging of the American population. The etiology of Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma is unknown. Contributing risk factors include immunosuppression (AIDS, transplantation setting, autoimmune diseases), UltraViolet radiation, pesticides, hair dyes, and diet.
DLBCL is a neoplasm of large B cells and the most common chromosome abnormality involves alterations of the BCL-6 gene at the 3q27 locus, which is critical for germinal center formation. Two major molecular subtypes of DLBCL arising from different genetic mechanisms have been identified, using gene expression profiling: Germinal Center B-cell-like (GCB) and Activated B-Cell-like (ABC). Patients in the GCB subgroup have a higher five year survival rate, independent of clinical IPI (International Prognostic Index) risk score, whereas patients in the ABC subgroup have a significantly worse outcome. Regardless, R-CHOP regimen (Rituximab, Cyclophosphamide, Doxorubicin, Vincristine, and Prednisone), given every 21 days, for 6 cycles, delivered with curative intent, is the current standard of care for patients of all ages, with newly diagnosed DLBCL, regardless of molecular subtype. Approximately 30-40% of patients experience disease progression or relapse, during the first 2 years and attempts to improve on R-CHOP regimen have not been successful. Maintenance treatment strategy following R-CHOP, to better control the disease, delay disease progression and improve long term survival, have included Autologous Stem Cell Transplantation, maintenance treatment with agents such as oral protein kinase inhibitor Enzastaurin and Everolimus. Outcomes for transplant-ineligible patients with Relapsed/Refractory DLBCL patients remain poor.
CD79b is a B-cell specific surface protein, which is a component of the B-cell receptor and is ubiquitously expressed on the surface of malignant B cells. POLIVY® (Polatuzumab vedotin) is a CD79b-directed Antibody-Drug Conjugate (ADC) with activity against dividing B cells. It consists of three components: 1) the humanized ImmunoGlobulin G1 (IgG1) monoclonal antibody specific for human CD79b; 2) the small molecule anti-mitotic agent MMAE (monomethyl auristatin E) and 3) a protease-cleavable linker that covalently attaches MMAE to the Polatuzumab antibody. Upon binding to CD79b, POLIVY® is internalized, and the linker is cleaved by lysosomal proteases thus enabling intracellular delivery of MMAE. MMAE then binds to microtubules and kills dividing cells by inhibiting cell division and inducing apoptosis. POLIVY® demonstrated efficacy in patients with Relapsed or Refractory DLBCL, resulting in significantly longer Overall Survival when combined with Bendamustine and Rituximab, compared to Bendamustine and Rituximab alone. Based on these finding, the FDA granted accelerated approval to POLIVY® in June 2019.
In a Phase Ib-II study POLIVY® in combination with Rituximab, Cyclophosphamide, Doxorubicin, and Prednisone (pola-R-CHP) resulted in a 89% Overall Response rate and 77% Complete Responses when given as first line therapy, in patients with DLBCL. In this study, Vincristine was excluded from the regimen owing to the risk of overlapping neurotoxicities with POLIVY®. The present POLARIX trial was conducted to evaluate the efficacy and safety of pola-R-CHP as compared with R-CHOP, in patients with previously untreated DLBCL.
The POLARIX is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, International Phase III trial in which a total of 879 treatment naïve, CD20-positive, intermediate or high-risk DLBCL patients were randomly assigned in a 1:1 ratio to receive 6 cycles of either pola-R-CHP (N=440) or R-CHOP (N=439). Patients on Day 1 of each 21 day cycle, received POLIVY® 1.8 mg/kg IV and a placebo matching Vincristine IV (pola-R-CHP group) or a placebo matching POLIVY® and intravenous Vincristine at a dose of 1.4 mg/m2 (maximum of 2 mg) (R-CHOP group), along with Rituximab 375 mg/m2 IV, Cyclophosphamide 750 mg/m2 IV and Doxorubicin 50 mg/m2 IV. All the patients also received Prednisone 100 mg orally once daily on Days 1-5 of each of the first six cycles. During cycles 7 and 8, patients in both treatment groups received Rituximab monotherapy at 375 mg/m2 IV. The median patient age was 65 years and stratification was based on IPI score and presence or absence of bulky disease, Subtypes of DLBCL were centrally evaluated and were balanced between the two treatment groups. Patients were eligible regardless of the Cell of Origin or the presence of rearrangements in MYC, BCL2, BCL6, or a combination of these. Patients with known CNS involvement were excluded but CNS prophylaxis with intrathecal chemotherapy was permitted, in accordance with institutional practice guidelines. The use of Granulocyte Colony-Stimulating Factor (G-CSF) was required during the first six cycles of treatment for primary prophylaxis against neutropenia and consolidative radiotherapy to initial sites of bulky disease or extranodal sites was allowed at the discretion of the investigator. The Primary end point was Progression Free Survival (PFS). Secondary end points included Overall Survival (OS) and Safety.
At a median follow up of 28.2 months, the PFS was significantly higher in the pola-R-CHP group compared to the R-CHOP group. The PFS at 2 years was 76.7% in the pola-R-CHP group versus 70.2% in the R-CHOP group (stratified HR=0.73; P=0.02). Treatment with pola-R-CHP resulted in a risk of disease progression, relapse, or death that was 27% lower, compared to R-CHOP. Patient subgroups that did not show a clear benefit with pola-R-CHP included patients 60 years of age or younger, patients with the Germinal Center B-cell-like subtype of DLBCL, patients who had bulky disease, and patients who had lower IPI scores. Overall Survival at 2 years did not differ significantly between the treatment groups and the researchers attributed the lack of a significant difference between the two groups in Overall Survival, to the availability of new, effective treatments for relapsed or refractory DLBCL, as well as short duration of follow up at the time of this reporting. The safety profile was similar in the two treatment groups.
The authors concluded that among patients with previously untreated intermediate-risk or high-risk DLBCL, the risk of disease progression, relapse, or death was lower among those who received pola-R-CHP than among those who received R-CHOP.
Polatuzumab Vedotin in Previously Untreated Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma. Tilly H, Morschhauser F, Sehn LH, et al. December 14, 2021. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa2115304