The anti-PD1 antibody nivolumab is approved for relapsed or refractory classical Hodgkin lymphoma (cHL) showing high overall response rates (ORR) and a favorable safety profile. However, complete response (CR) is rare in this setting, and most patients develop progressive disease. To evaluate the efficacy of combined nivolumab and doxorubicin, vinblastine and dacarbazine (AVD) as 1st-line treatment for early-stage unfavorable cHL, we conducted the GHSG NIVAHL trial.


NIVAHL is a prospective, randomized, investigator-sponsored single-stage phase II trial that enrolled treatment-naïve early-stage unfavorable cHL patients between 18 and 60 years at 35 German centers (NCT03004833). In arm A, patients received 240mg nivolumab and AVD at standard doses on day 1 and 15 of each 28-day cycle for a total of four cycles (4xNivoAVD). In arm B, the same treatment was administered sequentially, starting with 4x nivolumab in 2-weekly intervals, followed by 2xNivoAVD and 2xAVD. Both groups received 30Gy involved-site radiotherapy (IS-RT). Primary endpoint is the centrally reviewed PET/CT-based CR rate after completion of protocol therapy including IS-RT. 55 patients per group were enrolled in order to exclude a CR rate ≤80% with a power of 90% on a one-sided alpha level of 2.5% each. Secondary endpoints will be analyzed descriptively and include treatment-related morbidity (TRMorbidity), progression-free (PFS), overall survival (OS), response at interim and final restaging as well as patient-reported outcomes. Sequential biopsies, blood and microbiome samples were collected for correlative studies.


Between 04/2017 and 10/2018, a total of 110 patients were enrolled with one patient disqualified due to alteration of HL diagnosis by central pathology review (N=109, group A n=55, group B n=54). The median age of the predominantly female patients (60%) was 27 years. Stage II was present in 95% of cases with ≥3 involved areas as most common risk factor (69%), followed by elevated ESR (48%), large mediastinal mass (20%) and extranodal disease (13%).

Mean duration of chemoimmunotherapy was 15 (standard deviation (SD) 3) weeks and 22 (SD 6) weeks with a mean relative dose intensity of 87.4 (SD 15.9)% and 85.8 (SD 24.2)% in groups A and B, respectively. Severe protocol deviations occurred in 4 patients in group A and 5 in group B. Reasons were toxicity (n=5), patient's wish (n=2), incorrect allocation to early-stage unfavorable risk group (n=1) and progressive disease (n=1). Another 2 patients refused to receive IS-RT.

Any adverse events (AEs) were reported for 98% of patients. AEs ≥°3 were observed in 73% and 78%, respectively, and serious AEs occurred in 38% and 28% of patients in groups A and B, respectively. TRMorbidity defined as organ toxicity ≥°3 or anemia, thrombocytopenia or infection °4 was documented in 16% and 22% of patients; all of these were organ toxicities predominantly of liver and gastrointestinal tract, with 19/21 events occurring during the first 2 treatment cycles. Data on ongoing or late toxicities is limited by short follow-up. Until 07/2019, 4 cases of persistent hypothyroidism have been reported.

At the 1st interim restaging after 2xNivoAVD and 4x nivolumab, the ORR was 100% (54/54) and 96% (49/51), with a CR rate of 85% and 53% in groups A and B, respectively. Interim remission status was not assessed in 1 and 3 patients, respectively, due to treatment discontinuation after incorrect allocation to early-stage unfavorable risk group (n=1) or toxicity (n=3). After completion of systemic therapy, ORR was 100% (54/54) and 98% (50/51) with a CR rate of 81% and 86%, respectively. One patient in group B developed histologically proven primary progressive HL during nivolumab monotherapy while no other case of progressive or relapsed disease or death has been documented so far.

The centrally reviewed CR rate at the end of treatment will be reported at the meeting. Additionally, initial data from currently ongoing histopathologic and immunologic studies will also be presented.


Concomitant and sequential therapy with nivolumab and AVD is feasible with acceptable toxicity. In early-stage unfavorable cHL, concomitant Nivo-AVD induces a high early CR rate. The interim CR rate observed with 4x nivolumab monotherapy is higher than previously reported in relapsed or advanced-stage disease. The primary endpoint and initial PFS data will be reported at the meeting.


Bröckelmann:Bristol-Myers Squibb: Honoraria, Other: Travel Support, Research Funding; Takeda: Consultancy, Honoraria, Other: Travel Support, Research Funding; MSD Sharpe & Dohme: Research Funding. Kerkhoff:EUSA: Honoraria; Hexal: Honoraria; Celgene: Honoraria, Other: Travel Support; Roche: Honoraria; Novartis: Honoraria. Hüttmann:University Hospital Essen: Employment; Takeda: Honoraria; Gilead: Honoraria. Zimmermann:Takeda: Honoraria, Other: Travel Expenses; Novartis: Other: Travel Expenses; MSD: Other: Travel Expenses; BMS: Other: Travel Expenses. von Tresckow:MSD Sharpe & Dohme: Consultancy, Honoraria, Research Funding; Novartis: Consultancy, Honoraria, Research Funding; Takeda: Consultancy, Honoraria, Research Funding; Pfizer: Honoraria; Roche: Honoraria; Amgen: Honoraria. Klapper:Roche, Takeda, Amgen, Regeneron: Honoraria, Research Funding. Borchmann:Novartis: Honoraria, Research Funding.

OffLabel Disclosure:

Nivolumab 240mg i.v. 2-weekly for 1st-line treatment of classical Hodgkin lymphoma.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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