On March 14, 2017, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved pembrolizumab for the treatment of refractory Hodgkin lymphoma in children and adults who have been treated with at least three prior therapies.
Pembrolizumab is a type of immunotherapy called a checkpoint inhibitor. This drug consists of an antibody that binds to programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1), preventing the cancer cells from evading detection by the body’s immune system. Treatment with pembrolizumab allows T-cells (the fighter cells) to mount an immune response against the malignant cells.
Since 2014, Pembrolizumab has been FDA approved for the treatment of unresectable or metastatic melanoma, metastatic non-small-cell lung cancer, and recurrent or metastatic head and neck squamous cell carcinoma. The approval of pembrolizumab for the treatment of relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma was made under the FDA’s accelerated approval process.
This approval was based on data from a clinical trial of pembrolizumab in 210 adult patients with Hodgkin lymphoma who had relapsed or refractory disease after autologous stem cell transplant and/or treatment with brentuximab vedotin. With a median follow up of 9.4 months, the overall response rate was 69%, including partial responses in 47% and complete responses in 22% of patients. The approval in pediatrics was based on known safety data and extrapolated efficacy based on the adult trial.
The most common adverse events in the trial were fatigue, fever, cough, musculoskeletal pain, diarrhea, and rash. Among 40 pediatric patients with advanced melanoma, PD-L1 positive tumors, or lymphoma, the side effects and overall safety profile was similar to adults. A “warning and precaution” was added to the label describing the potential complications of graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) in patients undergoing allogeneic stem cell transplant after treatment with pembrolizumab. Death related to GVHD has occurred and physicians are advised to monitor for hepatic veno-occlusive disease and grade 3-4 acute GVHD including hyperacute GVHD.
The recommended dose of pembrolizumab for patients with Hodgkin lymphoma is 200mg every 3 weeks in adults and 2mg/kg (up to 200mg) every 3 weeks in children.
At the Weill Cornell and NewYork-Presbyterian Lymphoma Program, we offer pembrolizumab as one of many treatment choices available for people with Hodgkin lymphoma.