Conference Coverage

Avelumab does not add punch to ALK inhibitors for ALK+/– NSCLC



CHICAGO – The combination of the immune checkpoint inhibitor avelumab (Bavencio) and the ALK inhibitor lorlatinib in ALK-positive patients was associated with an acceptable safety profile and good activity – albeit not better than lorlatinib alone – in one arm of the phase 1/2b JAVELIN Lung 101 trial.

In contrast, although preclinical data suggested that the combination of an ALK inhibitor and immune checkpoint inhibitor might have synergistic activity in patients with advanced ALK-negative non–small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC), it didn’t pan out in the second arm of the trial, reported Alice T. Shaw, MD, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center in Boston.

Dr. Alice T. Shaw of Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston Neil Osterweil/MDedge News

Dr. Alice T. Shaw

In the parallel group trial testing combinations of the programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) inhibitor avelumab with either of two tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) – crizotinib (Xalkori) or lorlatinib – the combination of avelumab and crizotinib had an objective response rate (ORR) of just 16.7% in ALK-negative patients, and 5 of 12 patients in this study arm had dose limiting toxicities (DLTs) due to serious adverse events.

“The most common DLTs were increased transaminases, consistent with the recent report of increased hepatotoxicity with the combination of nivolumab and crizotinib in Checkmate 370. While there were two confirmed partial responses, this efficacy would be expected for avelumab alone. No further development of this combination is planned,” Dr. Shaw said in an oral abstract session at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

In contrast, in ALK-positive patients, avelumab/lorlatinib was associated with an ORR of 46.4%, although it’s likely that the responses were attributable to lorlatinib alone, and not its anti-PD-L1 partner, she acknowledged.

Synergism sought

The investigators based the study on two hypotheses: The first was that ALK inhibitors, through their immunomodulatory properties, combined with checkpoint inhibitors, could have synergistic activity against non-ALK-driver NSCLC, hence the combination of avelumab and crizotinib in these patients.

Their second hypothesis was that a combination of an ALK inhibitor and checkpoint inhibitor could lead to enhanced efficacy in patients with previously treated ALK-positive NSCLC. To test this combination, they chose to pair avelumab with lorlatinib, a third-generation ALK-targeting TKI with the ability to penetrate the central nervous system. Dr. Shaw and her colleagues had previously shown in a phase 1 trial that this agent has potent activity against ALK-driven tumors with resistance mutations.

Two groups, two TKIs, one PD-L1 inhibitor

Group A in JAVELIN LUNG 101 included 12 patients with ALK-negative NSCLC, no known ROS1 gene rearrangement, c-MET gene amplification, or c-MET exon 14, skipping who had received at least one prior line of systemic therapy, and no prior checkpoint inhibitor. These patients were treated with avelumab 10 mg/kg over a 1-hour IV infusion every 2 weeks, plus 250 mg oral crizotinib twice daily.

Group B included 28 patients with advanced ALK-positive NSCLC, any number of prior regimens (or none), and no prior checkpoint inhibitor therapy. Patients with asymptomatic untreated brain metastases were eligible for treatment. These patients received avelumab at the same dose and schedule as in group A, plus oral lorlatinib 100 mg once daily.

In both arms, patients were assessed for maximum tolerated dose (MTD) and recommended phase 2 doses, DLTs, safety and tolerability, and antitumor activity.

There were no DLTs among 25 patients evaluable for this assessment in the avelumab/lorlatinib arm. In contrast, five patients had DLTs in the avelumab/crizotinib arm, included four transaminases increases and one case each of febrile neutropenia, hepatitis, QT interval prolongation, and rash.

Adverse events of any grade occurred in all patients in group A and in 27 of 28 patients (96.4%) in group B. Grade 3 or greater adverse events occurred in 58.3% and 53.6% of patients, respectively.

In group A, treatment-related serious adverse events were febrile neutropenia, hepatitis, and rash. In group B, these events included pneumonitis, elevated alanine aminotransferase, delirium, fatal dyspnea (one case), and pericardial effusion.

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