Newswise — New Brunswick, N.J., May 30, 2019 – Findings from Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey focused on immunotherapy will be featured at the 2019 American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting being held in Chicago tomorrow through Tuesday.

Checkpoint inhibitor treatment is a form of immunotherapy that targets what are known as ‘checkpoints’ in the immune system that regulate certain functions in the body. Sometimes tumors can use these regulators to defend against the body’s natural defenses. By targeting checkpoints with certain drugs, these regulators help the immune system get back to work by instructing it to attack cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells untouched. Of focus in numerous worldwide studies is the drug pembrolizumab. Considered investigational for the treatment of some cancers, it is FDA-approved in the treatment of melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, renal cell carcinoma and other tumor sites.  Research by Rutgers Cancer Institute investigators and other collaborators examining the impact of pembrolizumab will be presented during the annual meeting.

Prospective phase 1 multi-institutional trial of PD-1 blockade with pembrolizumab during concurrent chemoradiation for locally advanced, unresectable non-small cell lung cancer (Abstract #8511) 

Rutgers Cancer Institute radiation oncologist Salma K. Jabbour, MD, will present data as part of a poster discussion session on the safety and toxicity of PD-1 inhibition using the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab when administered together with chemoradiation treatment for patients with stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer. For a 27 month period between 2016 and 2018, 23 participants were enrolled (52 percent were women; median age 69 years). Five cohorts evaluating different timing and   dosing of pembrolizumab combined with chemotherapy (carboplatin and paclitaxel weekly) and definitive radiation therapy (60 Gy in 2 Gy/day x 30 fractions) for unresectable, locally advanced, stage 3 disease were examined. Results show the combined treatment was well tolerated with promising progression-free survival to date, but there was an increased risk for immune-related adverse events, particularly pneumonitis. Dr. Jabbour, a professor of radiation oncology at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, and colleagues note that due to encouraging results, further prospective study is warranted. 

Other Rutgers Cancer Institute faculty members who collaborated on the work are Lung Cancer/Thoracic Oncology Program Co-Director and medical oncologist Joseph Aisner, MD, who is a professor of medicine and of Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; and medical oncologist and senior author Jyoti Malhotra, MD, MPH, who is an assistant professor of medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.  

Phase 2 trial of first-line pembrolizumab with platinum doublet chemotherapy and radiotherapy in patients with unresectable, locally advanced stage III non-small cell lung cancer: KEYNOTE-799 (Abstract #TPS8575) 

Standard treatment (concurrent platinum doublet chemotherapy with radiotherapy) for unresectable stage 3 non-small cell lung cancer does  not reduce the risk of distant relapse, and the five-year survival rate is low. The checkpoint inhibitor drug pembrolizumab is shown to have durable clinical activity as a first-line treatment for advanced/metastatic non-small cell lung cancer, both as monotherapy for PD-L1-positive tumors and in combination with chemotherapy irrespective of PD-L1 status. Rutgers Cancer Institute radiation oncologist Salma K. Jabbour, MD, will present interim data as part of a poster session that examines the safety and efficacy of pembrolizumab when used as first-line therapy when combined with standard therapy for unresectable advanced stage non-small cell lung cancer. Approximately 216 patients will be enrolled from 59 sites in 10 countries as part of two cohorts in this non-randomized, open-label phase 2 study, which opened for accrual this past November. Interim data will be presented.

Ph1/2 study of Rova-T in combination with nivolumab ±ipilimumab for patients with 2L+ extensive-stage SCLC (Abstract #8516) 

Other work involving checkpoint inhibitors is led by Rutgers Cancer Institute medical oncologist Jyoti Malhotra, MD, MPH. She is the lead author on research that will be presented during a poster discussion session examining the anti-body drug conjugate known as Rova-T in combination with a checkpoint inhibitor drug and a monoclonal antibody that works to activate the immune system.

Other work featuring Rutgers Cancer Institute researchers as lead or senior investigators include:

Randomized phase 2 study of second-line modified FOLFIRI with PARP inhibitor ABT-888 (Veliparib) (NSC-737664) versus FOLFIRI in metastatic pancreatic cancer (mPC): SWOG S1513 (Abstract #4014) 

Senior author: Howard H. Hochster, MD, FACP 

A phase 1 study of pazopanib with weekly paclitaxel and carboplatin in advanced solid 

tumors (Abstract #3021) 

Lead Author: Nancy Chan, MD 

Authors: Joseph Aisner, MD; Jyoti Malhotra, MD, MPH; Weichung Shih, PhD; Michael P. Kane, RPh, BCOP; Janice M. Mehnert, MD 

Rutgers Cancer Institute faculty members are also collaborators on dozens of other on-site presentations and abstracts published in conjunction with the ASCO annual meeting that are not listed here.

About Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey

As New Jersey’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, Rutgers Cancer Institute, along with its partner RWJBarnabas Health, offers the most advanced cancer treatment options including bone marrow transplantation, proton therapy, CAR T-cell therapy and complex robotic surgery.  Along with clinical trials and novel therapeutics such as precision medicine and immunotherapy – many of which are not widely available – patients have access to these cutting-edge therapies at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey at University Hospital in Newark, as well as through RWJBarnabas Health facilities.

Along with world-class treatment, which is often fueled by on-site research conducted in Rutgers Cancer Institute laboratories, patients and their families also can seek cancer preventative services and education resources throughout the Rutgers Cancer Institute and RWJBarnabas Health footprint statewide. To make a tax-deductible gift to support the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, call 848-932-8013 or visit