Conference Coverage

CAR-T hikes overall survival in relapsed/refractory LBCL



At a median follow-up of 47.2 months, axicabtagene ciloleucel (axi-cel, Yescarta) significantly improved overall survival compared with standard second-line treatments in patients with early relapsed or refractory large B-cell lymphoma, according to a phase 3 investigation reported at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).

The anti-CD19 chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) therapy was approved for second-line treatment in 2022 based on better event-free survival, but standard second-line treatment – chemoimmunotherapy followed by high-dose chemotherapy and autologous stem-cell transplant in responders – still remains the prevailing approach, explained Jason Westin, MD, director of lymphoma research at MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston. Dr. Westin, lead investigator, presented the trial, dubbed ZUMA-7, at the ASCO meeting.

The new findings might change that. ZUMA-7 “conclusively demonstrates that trying chemotherapy in the second line and saving cell therapy for the third line is an inferior approach ... ZUMA-7 confirms axi-cel is a second-line standard of care for patients with refractory or early relapsed large B cell lymphoma based on superior overall survival,” said Dr. Westin.

Study discussant Asher A. Chanan-Khan, MD, a CAR-T specialist at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., agreed.

“This data must alter the current standard of care making CAR-T or axi-cel, based on the data we heard, a preferred second-line treatment ... Moving CAR-T earlier in the treatment paradigm is likely a better choice for our patients,” he said.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine to coincide with the presentations.

Dr. Westin noted that axi-cel is now under investigation in ZUMA-23 for first-line treatment of high-risk large B-cell lymphoma (LBCL).

Study details

Zuma-7 randomized 180 LBCL patients to a one-time axi-cel infusion and 179 to standard care. Patients were refractory to first line chemoimmunotherapy or had relapsed within 12 months; just 36% of patients in the standard care group did well enough on treatment to go on to stem-cell transplant.

Median progression-free survival (PFS) was 14.7 months with axi-cel versus 3.7 months with standard care.

Significantly, the better PFS appears to have translated into better overall survival (OS).

At a median of almost 4 years, 82 patients in the axi-cel group had died, compared with 95 patients with standard care who had died. Estimated 4-year OS was 54.6% with axi-cel versus 46% with standard care (HR 0.73, P = .03).

The OS benefit held in high-risk subgroups, including patients over 64 years old, those refractory to first-line treatment, and patients with high-grade disease.

Adverse events were in keeping with labeling. Cytokine release syndrome was more common in the axi-cel arm, including grade 3 or worse CRS in 6% of axi-cel patients versus none on standard care. Grade 3 or worse infections were also more common at 16.5% versus 11.9% with standard care. Over 11% of axi-cel patients developed hypogammaglobulinemia versus 0.6% in the standard care group.

Overall, there were no new serious or fatal adverse events since the initial PFS results were reported in 2022, when eight fatal adverse events were reported with axi-cel versus two with standard care.

The work was funded by axi-cel maker Kite Pharma, a subsidiary of Gilead. Investigators included Kite/Gilead employees and others who reported financial relationships with the companies, including Dr. Westin, a Kite/Gilead researcher and adviser. Dr. Chanan-Khan disclosed ties with Cellectar, Starton Therapeutics, Ascentage Pharma, and others.

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