Avelumab showed single-agent activity in a subset of patients with relapsed or refractory extranodal natural killer/T-cell lymphoma.
The assessment of PD-L1 expression and immune subtyping could help to identify responders to avelumab.
This study aimed to assess the efficacy and safety of treatment with avelumab, an anti–programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) antibody, in patients with relapsed or refractory extranodal natural killer/T-cell lymphoma (ENKTL). In this phase 2 trial, 21 patients with relapsed or refractory ENKTL were treated with 10 mg/kg of avelumab on days 1 and 15 of a 28-day cycle. The primary end point was the complete response (CR) rate based on the best response. Targeted sequencing and immunohistochemistry were performed using pretreatment tumor tissue, and blood samples were drawn before and after treatment for measurement of cytokines and soluble programmed cell death protein 1 (PD1), PD-L1, and PD-L2. The CR rate was 24% (5 of 21), and the overall response rate was 38% (8 of 21). Although nonresponders showed early progression, 5 responders currently continue to receive treatment and have maintained their response. Most treatment-related adverse events were grade 1 or 2; no grade 4 adverse events were observed. Treatment responses did not correlate with mutation profiles, tumor mutation burden, serum levels of cytokines, or soluble PD1/PD-L1 and PD-L2. However, the response to avelumab was significantly associated with the expression of PD-L1 by tumor tissue (P = .001). Therefore, all patients achieving CR showed high PD-L1 expression, and their tumor subtyping based on PD-L1 expression correlated with treatment response. In summary, avelumab showed single-agent activity in a subset of patients with relapsed or refractory ENKTL. The assessment of PD-L1 expression on tumor cells might be helpful for identifying responders to avelumab. This trial was registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov as #NCT03439501.