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X-ray of the lungs of a person with highlighted cancer in the left lung.
The Phase 3 AEGEAN was the first trial investigating perioperative immunotherapy in patients with resectable NSCLC to report positive outcomes.
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Perioperative Immunotherapy Significantly Improves NSCLC Outcomes

Results showed a 32 percent lower chance of cancer recurrence, progression, or death with immunotherapy plus chemotherapy versus chemotherapy alone

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Published:Oct 23, 2023
|3 min read
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HOUSTON ? A regimen of presurgical immunotherapy and chemotherapy followed by postsurgical immunotherapy significantly improved event-free survival (EFS) and pathological complete response (pCR) rates compared to chemotherapy alone for patients with operable non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), according to results of a Phase 3 trial reported by researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. 

The findings, published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine, were first presented at the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting 2023.  

The AEGEAN trial

The Phase 3 AEGEAN trial is a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the benefits of perioperative (administered before and after surgery) durvalumab added to platinum-based chemotherapy in adults with untreated stage 2A-3B NSCLC. A total of 802 patients were randomized 1:1 into each arm. The study’s primary endpoints are pCR, assessed by a central lab, and EFS using a blinded independent central review. 

Participants in the trial received either presurgical (neoadjuvant) durvalumab and platinum-based chemotherapy followed by postsurgical (adjuvant) durvalumab or neoadjuvant placebo and chemotherapy followed by adjuvant placebo.

Patients with EGFR/ALK mutations were excluded from the modified intent-to-treat population. A total of 740 patients were included in the efficacy analysis, including 366 on the durvalumab arm and 374 on the placebo arm. The median age of participants in each arm was 65 and 71.6 percent were male. Patients were 53.6 percent White and 41.5 percent Asian. 

AEGEAN was the first trial investigating perioperative immunotherapy in patients with resectable NSCLC to report positive outcomes. These data add to the growing evidence supporting the benefits of both neoadjuvant and adjuvant immunotherapy for these patients. “Our goal is to increase cures for lung cancer. Throughout decades of research with adjuvant and neoadjuvant chemotherapy, we only succeeded in increasing cures by around 5 percent,” said principal investigator John Heymach, MD, PhD, chair of Thoracic/Head & Neck Medical Oncology at MD Anderson. “This one study alone has the potential to increase that percentage significantly, and we look forward to many more improvements going forward.”

Findings of AEGEAN trial 

Of the patients receiving perioperative durvalumab, some 17.2 percent had a pCR compared to just 4.3 percent of those receiving chemotherapy alone. At the first interim analysis of EFS, with a median follow-up of 11.7 months, the median EFS was 25.9 months in the placebo arm, but it had not yet been reached in the durvalumab arm. 

These data correspond to a 32 percent lower chance of patients experiencing disease recurrence, progression events, or death with the immunotherapy-based treatment when compared to chemotherapy alone. Approximately four times as many patients treated with perioperative durvalumab plus chemotherapy achieved a pCR when compared to those treated with chemotherapy alone. 

Durvalumab—an immune checkpoint inhibitor targeting PD-L1—has previously been approved for treating specific patients with biliary tract cancer, liver cancer, small cell lung cancer, and NSCLC. Currently, durvalumab is used for treating patients with locally advanced, unresectable NSCLC following definitive chemoradiotherapy and for patients with metastatic NSCLC in combination with tremelimumab and platinum-based chemotherapy. 

Overall, the treatments were well tolerated and side effects were consistent with previous studies. The researchers observed maximum grade 3-4 adverse events in 42.4 percent and 43.2 percent of patients on the durvalumab and placebo arms, respectively. 

The benefits in both pCR and EFS largely were consistent across predefined patient subgroups, and the trial continues assessment for long-term EFS as well as disease-free survival and overall survival outcomes. “This study shows that a combination of neoadjuvant and adjuvant durvalumab offers benefit for patients and may have the potential to change standard-of-care for patients with resectable non-small cell lung cancer,” said Heymach. “Going forward, we face a series of questions about how to build more effective regimens without giving more treatment than is necessary.” 

Heymach explained that future studies must determine which patients receive the most benefit from neoadjuvant therapy and may be able to avoid further treatment, as well as those who remain at high risk of recurrence and may require more intensive adjuvant regimens. 

- This press release was originally published on The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center website