PD-1 Blockade with Pembrolizumab (MK-3475) in Relapsed/Refractory CLL Including Richter Transformation: An Early Efficacy Report from a Phase 2 Trial (MC1485)

Wei Ding, Haidong Dong, Timothy G. Call, Tait D. Shanafelt, Sameer A. Parikh, Jose F. Leis, Betsy R. Laplant, Rong He, Thomas E. Witzig, Yi Lin, Asher Chanan-Khan, Deborah A. Bowen, Michael Conte, Thomas M. Habermann, David Viswanatha, Ivana Micallef, Neil E. Kay and Stephen Ansell


Background: High risk CLL patients treated with novel targeted therapies continue to experience disease progression (PD), and more than 50% of these PD patients evolve into Richter's syndrome (RS), (Maddocks, Jama Oncol 2015). Standard chemotherapy for large cell lymphoma has limited efficacy (median overall survival <12 months) in RS. Novel immunotherapy using a PD-1 antibody to block immune checkpoint signals to activate the cytotoxic T -cell has significant efficacy in relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma (Ansell, NEJM 2015). We conducted a phase 2 trial to test the safety and clinical efficacy of the anti-PD-1 antibody pembrolizumab in patients with relapsed/refractory CLL and relapsed low grade B non-Hodgkin lymphoma (B-NHL) (MC1485 trial).

Methods: MC1485includes two arms: patients with relapsed/refractory CLL (including RS) and patients with relapsed B-NHL. The main end points of this study are safety and overall response rate. The first 6 patients enrolled in either arm were included in a designed safety interim analysis. Here we report the initial interim analysis from the CLL arm. Relapsed/refractory CLL including RS who had ECOG performance 0-2 and normal organ function were included. Patients with active autoimmune disease or interstitial lung disease were excluded. Pembrolizumab 200 mg was administered intravenously every 3 weeks until progression, excessive toxicity, or completion of 2 years of therapy. Soluble plasma PD-L1 levels were measured in these 6 patients using an established ELISA assay (Frigola, Clin Cancer Res, 2011). CD8+ T cell subsets were assessed for their functional status using an established analysis (Liu, Oncoimmunology. 2013) at baseline and after 2 cycles of therapies.

Results: As of July 27th, 2015, 16 relapsed/refractory CLL patients including 5 RS patients were enrolled. The median age was 71 years (58-81). The median number of prior therapies was 3 (1-6). All CLL patients had received chemoimmunotherapy (FCR/PCR). 4 out of 5 RS patients had received anthracycline-containing chemotherapy. 5 out of 8 patients who had received prior ibrutinib therapy progressed on ibrutinib. 8 patients had 17p-/TP53 mutation. Herein, we report preliminary results from the interim analysis of CLL arm including 4 RS and 2 CLL as well as the 5th RS who had response evaluation by PET. The median cycles of therapy administered was 4 (3-7). One patient experienced grade 2 cytokine release syndrome with transient febrile neutropenia, grade 3 headache and skin rashes. These symptoms resolved with steroid therapy. One patient experienced grade 3 myalgia and was also treated with steroids. The other patients in this safety cohort tolerated pembrolizumab well. The most common drug-related adverse events were grade 1 dyspnea (33%, 2/6) and grade 1 anemia (33%, 2/6). Based on investigator assessment using the Cheson 2007 International Working Group Criteria, 4 out of 5 RS patients had responded to therapy. One patient had a complete remission after 2 cycles and remains in remission. One patient had almost complete PET response after two cycles and is classified as PR as her bone marrow have not been re-evaluated yet. Two patients had notable responses with nodal and skin lymphoma improvements before they showed potential evidence of progressive diseases. The remaining 1 RS and 2 CLL had stable disease and continued on therapy at the last follow-up. Soluble PD-L1 levels (sPD-L1, n=6) were measured at baseline and after 2 cycles of therapies. 3 RS patients who had responded to therapy had decreased or stable sPD-L1 levels. The 4th RS and two CLL had increased sPD-L1 levels and had not demonstrated clinical response. CD8 T-cell subset analyses performed blindly (n=4) showed increased CD8 T cell function in one of the 4 patients tested. This patient who demonstrated CD8 T cell functional enhancement is the only patient in the 4 tested patients who had notable response to pembrolizumab.

Conclusion: Pembrolizumab is tolerated in relapsed CLL and RS patients. Early efficacy observed in heavily pretreated RS patients including patients progressed on both anthracycline-based treatment and ibrutinib indicate PD-1 inhibition is a promising novel approach in patients with RS. Our CD8 T cell subset analysis may be used as a biomarker assay to predict clinical response in the era of novel immunotherapy. This trial and further correlative analysis is ongoing and will be presented at the ASH meeting.

Disclosures Ding: Merek: Research Funding. Shanafelt: Cephalon: Research Funding; Pharmactckucs: Research Funding; Janssen: Research Funding; Hospira: Research Funding; Polyphenon E Int'l: Research Funding; Celgene: Research Funding; Glaxo-Smith_Kline: Research Funding; Genentech: Research Funding. Kay: Tolero Pharma: Research Funding; Hospira: Research Funding; Pharmacyclics: Research Funding; Genentech: Research Funding; Celgene Corporation: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Gilead: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding. Ansell: Bristol-Myers Squibb: Research Funding; Celldex: Research Funding.

  • * Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.