Neoadjuvant nivolumab + T-VEC combination therapy for resectable early stage or metastatic (IIIB-IVM1a) melanoma with injectable disease: study protocol of the NIVEC trial.

Rohaan MW, Stahlie EHA, Franke V, Zijlker LP, Wilgenhof S, van der Noort V, van Akkooi ACJ, Haanen JBAG. BMC Cancer. 2022 Aug 4;22(1):851. doi: 10.1186/s12885-022-09896-4. PMID: 35927710; PMCID: PMC9351098.


Background: Trials investigating neoadjuvant treatment with immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) in patients with melanoma have shown high clinical and pathologic response rates. Treatment with talimogene laherparepvec (T-VEC), a modified herpes simplex virus type-1 (HSV-1), is approved for patients with unresectable stage IIIB-IVM1a melanoma and has the potential to make tumors more susceptible for ICI. Combination ICI and intralesional T-VEC has already been investigated in patients with unresectable stage IIIB-IV disease, however, no data is available yet on the potential benefit of this combination therapy in neoadjuvant setting.

Methods: This single center, single arm, phase II study aims to show an improved major pathologic complete response (pCR) rate, either pCR or near-pCR, up to 45% in 24 patients with resectable stage IIIB-IVM1a melanoma upon neoadjuvant combination treatment with intralesional T-VEC and systemic nivolumab (anti-PD-1 antibody). Patients will receive four courses of T-VEC up to 4 mL (first dose as seroconversion dose) and three doses of nivolumab (240 mg flatdose) every 2 weeks, followed by surgical resection in week nine. The primary endpoint of this trial is pathologic response rate. Secondary endpoints are safety, the rate of delay of surgery and event-free survival. Additionally, prognostic and predictive biomarker research and health-related quality of life evaluation will be performed.

Discussion: Intralesional T-VEC has the capacity to heighten the immune response and to elicit an abscopal effect in melanoma in combination with ICI. However, the potential clinical benefit of T-VEC plus ICI in the neoadjuvant setting remains unknown. This is the first trial investigating the efficacy and safety of neoadjuvant treatment of T-VEC and nivolumab followed by surgical resection in patients with stage IIIB-IVM1a melanoma, with the potential of high pathologic response rates and acceptable toxicity.

Trial registration: This trial was registered in the European Union Drug Regulating Authorities Clinical Trials Database (EudraCT- number: 2019-001911-22 ) and the Central Committee on Research Involving Human Subjects (NL71866.000.19) on 4th June 2020. Secondary identifying number: NCT04330430 .