Groundbreaking New Regimen for Advanced Hodgkin Lymphoma

Across patients’ age groups, adding the immune checkpoint inhibitor nivolumab to chemotherapy significantly improves progression-free survival in advanced stage Hodgkin lymphoma while also reducing toxicities, making it a new standard of care, compared with the CD30-targeting drug brentuximab vedotin.

“[SWOG] S1826, the largest Hodgkin lymphoma study in National Clinical Trials Network history, is a key step toward harmonizing the pediatric and adult treatment of advanced-stage Hodgkin lymphoma,” the authors reported in late-breaking research presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

“Based on the magnitude of the benefit and with nivolumab being better tolerated than brentuximab, we anticipate that these results will be practice changing and nivolumab [and chemotherapy] will become a new standard of care,” lead author Alex Francisco Herrera, MD, an associate professor and chief of the division of lymphoma in the department of hematology and hematopoietic cell transplantation, City of Hope Medical Center, Duarte, Calif., said in an interview.

The randomized SWOG S1826 trial of 976 patients with newly diagnosed stage 3 or 4 Hodgkin lymphoma included patients ranging in age from as young as 12 to 83 years, and at a median follow-up of 12.1 months, the addition of nivolumab to the chemotherapy regimen of doxorubicin, vinblastine, and dacarbazine (AVD) was associated with as much as a 52% reduction in the risk of disease-related death, compared with the addition of brentuximab.

The results are especially important considering that Hodgkin lymphoma disproportionately affects younger patients, including those in their teens, 20s, and 30s, Dr. Herrera noted in an interview.

“We found that treatment with nivolumab reduced the risk of progression by half, and, importantly, the benefit was observed across subgroups,” he said.

Relapse/refractory disease common in advanced HL

In general, outcomes are relatively good even for stage III or IV Hodgkin lymphoma; however, about a quarter of patients still have relapses or refractory disease.

While the introduction of novel frontline treatment with brentuximab-AVD was important in improving overall survival, the regimen adds toxicity, particularly among older patients, and many pediatric patients receiving the therapy still require radiation therapy, with its undesirable side effects.

Meanwhile, the progressive death 1 inhibitor nivolumab, approved by the Food and Drug Administration, gained interest as a potentially ideal alternative in light of Hodgkin lymphoma’s status basically as “the poster child for PD-1 blockade,” Dr. Herrera said.

“There are genetic changes in the Hodgkin lymphoma tumor cell that lead to expression of PD-1 ligands on the surface of Hodgkin lymphoma cells, and when we use a drug like nivolumab, we see that even patients with the most treatment-resistant rates of lymphoma have as much as a 70% response rate,” he explained in a press briefing.

To further investigate, the first-of-its-kind collaboration of adult and pediatric cancer teams conducted the S1826 trial to evaluate the treatment across age groups with stage 3 and 4 Hodgkin lymphoma.

For the study, conducted between July 2019 and October 2022, 976 patients were randomized to treatment either with nivolumab (n = 489) or brentuximab (n = 487), each in combination with the AVD regimen.

Of the patients, the median age was 27, with 24% under the age of 18, 10% over 60 and 32% with IPS 4-7. Among them, 56% were male and 76% were White.

For the primary endpoint, at a median follow-up of 12.1 months, the rate of progression-free survival was significantly higher in the nivolumab arm (hazard ratio, 0.48; one-sided P = .0005), with the rate of 1-year survival at 94% in the nivolumab group versus 86% in the brentuximab group, for a 52% reduction in the risk of disease-related death with nivolumab versus brentuximab.

A total of 11 deaths occurred in the brentuximab group, 7 of which were related to adverse events, compared with 4 deaths in the nivolumab group, 3 of which were related to nivolumab.

Importantly, fewer than 1% of patients with nivolumab required radiation therapy.

“That’s a dramatic reduction of the proportion of the very youngest patients receiving radiotherapy,” Dr. Herrera noted.

Grade 3 or higher hematologic adverse events were higher in the nivolumab group, at 48.4%, including 45.1% that were grade 3 or higher neutropenia, compared with 30.5% with brentuximab, including 23.9% with grade 3 or higher neutropenia.

However, rates of any grade of febrile neutropenia were similar with nivolumab and brentuximab (5.6% vs. 6.4%, respectively), as were rates of pneumonitis (2.0% vs. 3.2%), ALT elevation (30.7% vs. 39.8%), and colitis (1% vs. 1.3%).

In addition, rates of hypo- and hyperthyroidism were more frequent after nivolumab (7% and 3% with nivolumab, respectively, vs. fewer than 1% with brentuximab).

But, of note, peripheral neuropathy of any grade was more common after brentuximab (sensory: 28.1% nivolumab vs. 54.2% brentuximab; motor: 4% nivolumab vs. 6.8% brentuximab).

“I can’t emphasize how important neuropathy is as a side effect in these young patients who have the rest of their life ahead of them,” Dr. Herrera explained. “It’s fantastic to be cured of cancer, but tough to not be able to feel your fingers and toes.”

With its broad inclusion of age groups and a diverse population, he added that the study was importantly a “representative” trial, reflecting a “real-world population.”

“Incredibly, a quarter of patients were under the age of 18; 10% were over the age of 60, a quarter of patients were Hispanic and Black, and in fact we had a quite good representation of higher-risk subgroups,” he said.

Looking forward, longer-term follow-up from this study will be important in determining if the improvement observed in disease-related deaths is maintained over time, Dr. Herrera noted.

“Additionally, it is crucial to obtain data on other key outcomes such as overall survival and quality of life from longer-term follow of this study,” he said.

“A huge step forward”

Commenting on the study, Oreofe Odejide, MD, a medical oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, said that results were unprecedented.

“Although a majority of patients with advanced stage Hodgkin lymphoma will be cured with initial therapy, about 20% of patients still end up with relapsed or refractory disease,” she said in an interview. “Therefore, the findings from this study represent a huge step forward in the management of advanced Hodgkin lymphoma in children and adults, leading to an improved and well-tolerated standard of care.”

Dr. Odejide agreed that the findings are potentially practice changing.

“Brentuximab-AVD set a high bar for the treatment of advanced-stage Hodgkin lymphoma, as it was the first regimen to show a meaningful improvement in disease-related death compared to ABVD chemotherapy in several years,” she explained.

“The fact that the SWOG1826 trial now shows a significant benefit of nivolumab-AVD over brentuximab and included both pediatric and adult patients unlike prior studies, is highly compelling,” Dr. Odejide added. “This has strong potential to change the standard of care for patients with previously untreated, advanced-stage Hodgkin lymphoma.”

The study received funding from the National Cancer Institute and from Bristol-Myers Squibb. Dr. Herrera reported relationships with AbbVie, ADC Therapeutics, Adicet Bio, AstraZeneca/MedImmune, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Caribou Biosciences, Genentech/Roche, Genmab, Karyopharm Therapeutics, Merck, Pfizer, Regeneron, Seagen, Takeda, and Tubulis Gmbh. Dr. Odejide reported no disclosures.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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