ORLANDO, Florida — Systemic therapy prior to surgery has been slow to catch on in the treatment of patients with resectable non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), primarily out of concern that neoadjuvant therapy could delay surgery or render patients ineligible for resection.
That may change, however, in light of new data from the phase 3 AEGEAN trial.
The AEGEAN showed that neoadjuvant immunotherapy with durvalumab (Imfinzi) and chemotherapy followed by adjuvant durvalumab was associated with significant improvements in pathologic complete response rates and event-free survival, compared with neoadjuvant placebo plus chemotherapy followed by adjuvant placebo, and it did not affect patients’ ability to undergo surgery.
The event-free survival benefit among patients who received durvalumab translated to a 32% reduction in the risk of recurrence, recurrence precluding definitive surgery, or death, John V. Heymach, MD, reported in an oral abstract session at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2023.
“Perioperative durvalumab plus neoadjuvant chemotherapy is a potential new treatment for patients with resectable non–small cell lung cancer,” said Heymach, chair of thoracic/head and neck medical oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
The AEGEAN findings confirm the benefits of neoadjuvant immunotherapy that were first seen on a large scale in the Checkmate 816 study, which was reported at last year’s AACR annual meeting.
In Checkmate 816, adding the immune checkpoint inhibitor nivolumab to chemotherapy in the neoadjuvant setting resulted in significantly longer event-free survival and a 14-fold greater likelihood of a pathologic complete response compared with chemotherapy alone.
“I’m impressed by the fact that we now have a second study that shows the benefits of immunotherapy in the neoadjuvant setting, along with several adjuvant studies,” the invited discussant, Roy S. Herbst, MD, PhD, deputy director of the Yale Cancer Center, New Haven, Connecticut, said in an interview with Medscape Medical News. “There’s no doubt that in early lung cancer, resectable disease, immunotherapy is part of the equation.”
For the current study, Heymach and colleagues recruited 802 patients from 222 sites in North and South America, Europe, and Asia. The patients had NSCLC and were treatment-naive, regardless of programmed cell death–ligand-1 (PD-L1) expression.
After excluding patients with targetable EGFR/ALK alterations, the team randomly allocated 740 patients who had good performance status (ECOG 0 or 1) to receive either neoadjuvant chemoimmunotherapy plus adjuvant immunotherapy or neoadjuvant chemotherapy alone. Overall, 77.6% of patients in the treatment arm and 76.7% of patients in the placebo arm underwent surgery following neoadjuvant therapy.
At the trial’s first planned interim analysis, for patients assigned to preoperative durvalumab plus platinum-based chemotherapy and postoperative durvalumab, the 12-month event-free survival rate was 73.4%, compared with 64.5% for patients who received chemotherapy alone before and placebo after surgery (stratified P = .003902).
The other endpoint, pathologic complete response, was observed in 17.2% of patients in the durvalumab arm, vs 4.3% in the control arm — a 13% difference (P = .000036). Major pathologic responses, a secondary efficacy endpoint, were seen in 33.3% and 12.3% of patients, respectively.
The benefits of durvalumab were consistent across all subgroups, including those based on age at randomization, sex, performance status, race, smoking, histology (squamous vs nonsquamous), disease stage, baseline PD-L1 expression, and planned neoadjuvant agent.
The safety profile of durvalumab plus chemotherapy was manageable, and the addition of durvalumab did not affect patients’ ability to complete four cycles of neoadjuvant chemotherapy, Heymach said.
Are these data practice changing?
Herbst gave a “resounding ‘Yes.’ “
But while the AEGEAN protocol represents a new standard of care, it can’t yet be labeled the standard of care, Herbst explained.
Herbst emphasized that, because this regimen was not compared against the current standard of care, it’s “impossible to determine” whether this is indeed the new standard.
“The data are early, and additional maturity is needed to better understand the benefit of the extra adjuvant therapy, and we’ll await the survival results,” he said.
It will also be important to analyze why some patients only have minor responses with the addition of durvalumab and whether there are resistance mechanisms at play for these patients. That would be a great setting “to start to test new therapies in a personalized way,” Herbst said.
The study was funded by AstraZeneca. Heymach serves on advisory committees and receives research support from AstraZeneca and others. Herbst consulted for and has received research support from AstraZeneca and others.
American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2023: Abstract CT005. Presented April 16, 2023.
Neil Osterweil, an award-winning medical journalist, is a long-standing and frequent contributor to Medscape.
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