Key Developments in Cancer Immunotherapy Reported at ASCO 2015

Published: June 8, 2015

Cancer immunotherapy was center stage at the 2015 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, which draws more than 30,000 oncology professionals from around the globe. Educational sessions, many of which were presented by members and leaders of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, were packed with promising clinical trial data for patients with cancer across several disease states. In fact, the data presented indicated that immunotherapy and combination immunotherapies have demonstrated efficacy in cancer types in which few treatments have been available before.

While the five-day conference was filled with exciting news for the cancer immunotherapy field, several highlights are noted below.

Plenary Session features SITC Members Drs. Wolchok and Atkins

The most heavily attended and newsworthy session at the 2015 ASCO Annual Meeting – “The Plenary Session Including the Science of Oncology Award and Lecture” – featured a late-breaking abstract on a phase III combination study for the treatment of melanoma. The abstract was presented by the trial’s lead investigator, Jedd D. Wolchok, MD, chief of the Melanoma and Immunotherapy Service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center and an at-large director for SITC. Michael B. Atkins, MD, deputy director of the Georgetown-Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and past SITC president, provided discussion remarks following the presentation.

In his presentation, Dr. Wolchok explained that the phase III study demonstrated that treating advanced melanoma patients with either a combination of the immunotherapy drugs nivolumab and ipilimumab or nivolumab alone significantly increases progression-free survival over using ipilimumab alone. Of 314 patients receiving the combination, 57.6 percent had an objective response, measured as a significant reduction in tumor size, versus 43.7 percent of the 316 receiving nivolumab alone and 19 percent of the 315 receiving ipilimumab alone. Learn More

Advances in Colorectal Cancer

Dung T. Le, MD, of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, reported data from a phase II study that that evaluated clinical activity of anti-PD-1 (pembrolizumab) in previously treated patients with advanced colorectal cancer and other solid tumors based on DNA mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency. In the colorectal cancer group with MMR-deficient tumors, an objective response rate of 62 percent was observed, indicating MMR status predicts clinical benefit of immune checkpoint blockade with pembrolizumab. (Abstract LBA100)

Advances in Glioblastoma

David A. Reardon, MD, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, presented data from the ReACT study, which looked at rindopepimut (CDX-10) plus bevacizumab in the setting of recurrent glioblastoma. The rindopepimut molecule, which is composed of an EGFRvIII peptide conjugated to keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) and administered via intradermal injection, targets the EGFRvIII variant known to be associated with poor prognostic outcomes in patients with glioblastoma. The rationale for studying rindopepimut in patients with relapsed EGFRvIII-positive glioblastoma derives from multiple studies demonstrating improved overall survival and progression-free survival. (Abstract 2009)

Advances in Kidney Cancer

Biomarkers suggestive of adaptive immune activity at baseline were observed in patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma (mRCC) who had better clinical outcomes with nivolumab in a phase I clinical trial presented by Toni K. Choueiri, MD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. In addition, significant upregulation of CTLA-4 and PD-L2 was seen during treatment with nivolumab, suggesting the potential for combination therapy with ipilimumab in patients with mRCC. (Abstract 4500)

Advances in Liver Cancer

Data from a phase I/II study presented by Anthony B. El-Khoueiry, MD, of the University of Southern California Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, indicated that nivolumab may be a promising treatment for patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma. (Abstract LBA101)

Advances in Lung Cancer

Approved for second-line treatment of squamous non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), nivolumab demonstrated a significant overall survival benefit for patients with nonsquamous NSCLC based on data from the CheckMate 057 trial presented by Luis Paz-Ares, MD, PhD, of the Hospital Universitario Virgen Del Rocio, Spain. (Abstract LBA109)

Treatment options are limited for patients with advanced squamous cell non-small cell lung cancer (SQ NSCLC) who fail platinum-based doublet chemotherapy. A presentation by David R. Spigel, MD, of the Sarah Cannon Cancer Center, reported results of a phase III study (CheckMate 017) of nivolumab (NIVO; anti-programmed death-1) vs docetaxel (DOC) in previously treated advanced or metastatic SQ NSCLC. CheckMate 017 met its primary objective, demonstrating superior overall survival of NIVO vs DOC and demonstrated progression-free survival and objective response rate superiority. (Abstract 8009)

SITC Members Honored at ASCO

James P. Allison, PhD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center received the 2015 ASCO Science of Oncology Award and Lecture in recognition of his important discoveries in antitumor responses of the immune system. Dr. Allison’s research focuses on T cell response mechanisms and applying that basic understanding to overcome cancer’s evasion of attack by the immune system. These discoveries led to the clinical development of ipilimumab to block CTLA-4, which is FDA approved to treat melanoma.

Dr. Allison received the SITC Richard V. Smalley, MD Memorial Award in 2010 and served on the SITC Board of Directors from 2000 – 2001. He will be a presenter at the Milestones in Immunotherapy session at SITC 2015.

Suzanne L. Topalian, MD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, was named the 2015 David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award and Lecture Recipient for her outstanding contributions to the research, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Dr. Topalian’s studies of human antitumor immunity have provided a foundation for the translational development of cancer vaccines, adoptive T-cell transfer, and immunomodulatory monoclonal antibodies. Her current research focuses on manipulating immune checkpoints such as programmed cell death-1 in cancer therapy and the discovery of biomarkers to aid in the development of these therapies.

Dr. Topalian is an at-large director for the SITC Board of Directors for the term of 2013 – 2016. She will be a presenter in the Primer on Tumor Immunology and Cancer ImmunotherapyTM session at SITC 2015.

Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, of UCLA School of Medicine/Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, was named a 2015 Giant of Cancer Care by OncLive for his work as principal investigator on pivotal investigations of the PD-1 inhibitor pembrolizumab and other novel therapies. He conducted what is believed to have been the largest phase I clinical trial in the history of oncology at UCLA and 11 other sites, with more than 400 patients participating in the pembrolizumab trial.

Dr. Ribas served on the SITC Board of Directors from 2010 – 2013 and is an organizer for SITC’s Advances in Cancer Immunotherapy™ San Francisco program, which will be held in November 2015.

Carl H. June, MD, of Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, was named a 2015 Giant of Cancer Care by OncLive for pioneering the development of gene transfer therapies. He is known for publishing the first round of groundbreaking results that detailed the world’s first chimeric antigen receptor gene transfer therapy to create designer T cells aimed at combatting cancerous tumors.

Dr. June received the SITC Richard V. Smalley, MD Memorial Award in 2013 and served on the SITC Board of Directors from 2009 – 2011. He currently serves as a Society Champion.