Pembrolizumab versus placebo as adjuvant therapy in resected stage IIB or IIC melanoma: Outcomes in histopathologic subgroups from the randomized, double-blind, phase 3 KEYNOTE-716 trial.

Schadendorf D, Luke JJ, Ascierto PA, Long GV, Rutkowski P, Khattak M, Del Vecchio M, de la Cruz Merino L, Mackiewicz J, Chiarion-Sileni V, Kirkwood JM, Robert C, Grob J-J, Dummer R, Carlino MS, Zhao Y, Fukunaga-Kalabis M, Krepler C, Eggermont AMM, Scolyer RA. Journal of Immunotherapy of Cancer.


Background: Adjuvant pembrolizumab significantly improved recurrence-free survival (RFS) and distant metastasis-free survival (DMFS) versus placebo in the phase 3 KEYNOTE-716 study of resected stage IIB or IIC melanoma. At the prespecified third interim analysis (data cut-off, January 4, 2022), the HR for RFS in the overall population was 0.64 (95% CI, 0.50 to 0.84) and the HR for DMFS was 0.64 (95% CI, 0.47 to 0.88). We present a post hoc analysis of efficacy by subtypes defined by histopathologic characteristics.

Methods: Patients aged ≥12 years with newly diagnosed, resected stage IIB or IIC melanoma were randomly assigned (1:1) to pembrolizumab 200 mg every 3 weeks (2 mg/kg up to 200 mg for pediatric patients) or placebo. The primary end point was RFS per investigator review; DMFS per investigator review was secondary. Subgroups of interest were melanoma subtype (nodular vs non-nodular), tumor thickness (≤4 mm vs >4 mm), presence of ulceration (yes vs no), mitotic rate (<5 per mm2 (median) vs ≥5 per mm2), and presence of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs; absent vs present).

Results: Between September 23, 2018, and November 4, 2020, 976 patients were assigned to pembrolizumab (n=487) or placebo (n=489). Median follow-up was 27.4 months (range, 14.0-39.4). The HR (95% CI) for RFS was 0.54 (0.37 to 0.79) for nodular and 0.77 (0.53 to 1.11) for non-nodular melanoma; 0.57 (0.37 to 0.89) for thickness ≤4 mm and 0.69 (0.50 to 0.96) for >4 mm; 0.66 (0.50 to 0.89) for ulceration and 0.57 (0.32 to 1.03) for no ulceration; 0.57 (0.35 to 0.92) for mitotic rate <5 per mm2 and 0.57 (0.40 to 0.80) for ≥5 per mm2; and 0.89 (0.52 to 1.54) for TILs absent and 0.51 (0.34 to 0.76) for TILs present. DMFS results were similar. In a Cox multivariate analysis, treatment arm, tumor thickness, and mitotic rate were significant independent factors for RFS, and treatment arm and mitotic rate were significant independent factors for DMFS.

Conclusions: In this post hoc analysis, the benefit of pembrolizumab was largely consistent with the overall study population regardless of histopathologic characteristics. These results support the use of adjuvant pembrolizumab in patients with resected stage IIB or IIC melanoma.

Trial registration number:, NCT03553836.