Real-world experience with elective discontinuation of PD-1 inhibitors at 1 year in patients with metastatic melanoma

January 26, 2021


Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer

Publication Date

January 26, 2021


Rebecca Pokorny, Jordan P McPherson, Benjamin Haaland, Kenneth F Grossmann, Carolyn Luckett, Benjamin Newell Voorhies, Daniel S Sageser, Jocelyn Wallentine, Zachary Tolman, Siwen Hu-Lieskova, Umang Swami

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For patients who receive immune therapy for advanced melanoma, one year of therapy seems to be enough in most cases to provide ongoing disease control. We are in the process of studying our MCC patients to gather similar information. Early data seem to indicate that MCC patients tend to benefit from a longer treatment period than one year to prevent MCC recurrence.


Background: Randomized trials evaluating programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) inhibitors in metastatic melanoma either permitted treatment for 2 years (pembrolizumab) or more (nivolumab). The optimal duration of therapy is currently unknown due to limited data, and shorter therapies may be effective.

Methods: Data of patients with metastatic cutaneous melanoma treated with single-agent PD-1 inhibitors at Huntsman Cancer Institute from January 1, 2015, to December 31, 2018, was reviewed to identify a continuous series of patients who made the joint decision with their provider to electively discontinue therapy at 1 year (>6 months and <18 months) in the setting of ongoing treatment response or disease stability. Patients were excluded if they received PD-1 inhibitors with other systemic therapy, had prior exposure to PD-1 therapy, or discontinued treatment due to disease progression or immune-related adverse event. Best objective response (BOR) per RECIST V.1.1 at treatment discontinuation, progression-free survival (PFS), and retreatment characteristics was analyzed.

Results: Of 480 patients who received PD-1 inhibitors, 52 met the inclusion criteria. The median treatment duration from first to the last dose was 11.1 months (95% CI 10.5 to 11.4). BOR was complete response in 13 (25%), partial response in 28 (53.8%), and stable disease in 11 (21.2%) patients. After a median follow-up of 20.5 months (range 3–49.2) from treatment discontinuation, 39 (75%) patients remained without disease progression, while 13 (25%) had progression (median PFS 3.9 months; range 0.7–30.9). On multivariable analysis, younger age, history of brain metastasis, and higher lactate dehydrogenase at the time of anti-PD-1 discontinuation were associated with recurrence. Patients with recurrent melanoma were managed with localized treatment, anti-PD-1 therapies, and BRAF-MEK inhibitors. All patients except one were alive at data cutoff.

Conclusion: In this large real-world, observational cohort study, the majority of patients with metastatic melanoma after 1 year of anti-PD-1 therapy remained without progression on long-term follow-up. The risk of disease progression even in patients with residual disease on imaging was low. After prospective validation, elective PD-1 discontinuation at 1 year may reduce financial and immunotherapy-related toxicity without sacrificing outcomes.

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