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Cancer, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, clinical trial, metastatic breast cancer, triple-negative breast cancer, T cells, pembrolizumab, capecitabine




Background: In mTNBC, anti-PD-1/L1 monotherapy is most effective when administered early in the course of disease, with recent trials demonstrating overall response rates (ORR) of 23-26% in the first-line setting and 5-6% in later lines. This may reflect iatrogenic lymphopenia from preceding cytotoxic chemotherapy. Furthermore, curative-intent chemotherapy is associated with prolonged suppression of naïve CD4+ cells, a T-cell subset that may play a critical role in the generation of de novo anti-tumor immune responses. We present the final clinical results of a pilot study evaluating the safety and efficacy of combining pembrolizumab plus standard-of-care capecitabine in the first/second-line mTNBC setting. We also explore potential associations between clinical benefit and lymphopenia, preceding chemotherapy, and absolute naïve CD4+ counts.

Methods: In a pilot study, we evaluated the tolerability and preliminary efficacy of concurrent pembro (200mg IV q21 day) plus investigator-selected 1st/2nd line paclitaxel (80mg/m2 IV weekly) or oral cape (2,000mg BID, weekly 1 on/1 off). The primary endpoint was tolerability, defined as the proportion of subjects receiving >6 weeks concurrent therapy without dose discontinuation with toxicities reported per CTCAE v4.0. The secondary endpoint was 12-week objective response rate (ORR) by RECIST1.1. Exploratory endpoints included peripheral blood cell enumeration by real-time flow cytometry and routine clinical laboratory. Naïve CD4+ cells were defined as CD45+ CD3+ TCRab+ CD4+ CD45RA+ CCR7+. Here, we report the results of the pilot phase of the cape cohort (NCT02734290).

Results: Twelve of 14 subjects were treated in the first-line setting. All subjects (14/14, 100%) tolerated cape+pembro for >6 weeks, with toxicities consistent with monotherapy cape experience (diarrhea: grade I-II 50%, grade III 7%; hand-foot: grade I-II 71%) that improved with dose-reduction as needed. At 12 weeks, the ORR was 6/14 (42.9%), and the clinical benefit rate (ORR + stable disease) was 8/14 (57.1%). Depressed absolute lymphocyte count at baseline (ALC<1.0/uL: 33% CBR; ALC≥1.0/uL: 75% CBR) and recent exposure to cytotoxic chemotherapy (6 months: 75% CBR) were associated with reduced clinical benefit. By flow cytometry, subjects experiencing clinical benefit had higher baseline absolute naïve CD4+ counts (average 283 cells/uL v. 93 cells/uL, p=.069).

Conclusions: This study met the primary endpoint of safety for cape plus pembro in mTNBC, with encouraging clinical activity. These data are supportive of further studies evaluating combination chemotherapy plus anti-PD-1/L1 mTNBC. We observed greater clinical benefit in subjects with non-suppressed ALC, less exposure to recent chemo, and higher baseline naïve CD4+ counts, suggesting that iatrogenic immunosuppression can impair response to immune checkpoint therapy in mTNBC. These findings should be confirmed in ongoing randomized trials of immune checkpoint +/- chemotherapy in mTNBC, and should be considered in the design of future clinical trials.

Clinical Institute





Earle A. Chiles Research Institute

Conference / Event Name

2018 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium


San Antonio, TX, United States


Poster presented December 6, 2018.

Updated efficacy of first or second-line pembrolizumab plus in metastatic triple negative breast cancer and correlations with baseline lymphocyte and naïve CD4+ T-cell count

Included in

Oncology Commons