Immunotherapy: Studies with Neuroendocrine Neoplasms

There’s a lot of Immunotherapy stuff out there!  However, I also wanted to break it down and perhaps see if I can pick up the what, when, why, where and how in regards to Neuroendocrine Cancer.  It’s really difficult, not least because the picture is not clear and there is no general roadmap printed, let alone one for Neuroendocrine disease.  Immunotherapy for NETs was discussed at ENETS 2017 in Barcelona.  The presentation that sticks out was one given by Dr Matthew Kulke, a well-known NET Specialist in Dana Ferber Boston. My reaction to the presentation was one of ‘expectation management’ and caution i.e. it’s too soon to know if we will get any success and when we will get it. He also hinted that it’s more likely that any success will first be seen in poorly differentiated high-grade Neuroendocrine Carcinoma (NEC).  Dr Jonathan Strosberg also said similar in a post here.  In fact, from below you will see that grade 3 poorly differentiated is where the bulk of trial activity is (…..but read on, there is some action around plain old well differentiated NETs).

Let’s start with Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)?

‘Pembrolizumab’ better is more famously known as ‘Keytruda‘.  This drug crops up everywhere and it has connections to many different cancers.  Before I talk about this trial called PLANET, it’s very useful to take a quick look at the history of Keytruda which was only really made famous after former US President Jimmy Carter was treated with it for metastatic melanoma.  There was a lot of media hype surrounding what made his treatment successful as he was also given radiation for his brain tumours and his large liver tumour was removed by surgery.  However, putting the hype and conjecture to one side, Keytruda’s CV is pretty impressive:

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) is currently approved to treat:

  • Hodgkin lymphoma in adults and children. It is used in patients whose disease is refractory (does not respond to treatment) or has relapsed after at least three other types of treatment.
  • Melanoma that cannot be removed by surgery or that has metastasized (spread to other parts of the body).
  • Non-small cell lung cancer that has metastasized. It is used:
    • With pemetrexed and carboplatin as first-line treatment in patients with nonsquamous disease.
    • As first-line treatment in patients whose cancer has the PD-L1 protein and does not have a mutation in the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) gene or anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) gene.
    • In patients whose cancer has the PD-L1 protein and got worse during or after treatment with platinum chemotherapy. Patients whose cancer has EGFR or ALK gene mutations should receive Pembrolizumab only if their disease got worse after treatment with an FDA-approved therapy for these mutations.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck that has metastasized or recurred (come back) in patients whose disease got worse during or after treatment with platinum chemotherapy.
  • Urothelial carcinoma (a type of bladder cancer) that is locally advanced or has metastasized. It is used in patients who cannot be treated with cisplatin or whose disease got worse during or after platinum chemotherapy.
  • Microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) cancer that is metastatic and cannot be removed by surgery. It is used in adults and children for:

    MSI-H cancer has certain genetic mutations and may not respond to some types of treatment.

The most recent approval in May 2017 MSI-H disease is a very interesting development as it’s the US FDA’s very first approval on a tissue/site agnostic basis.  You can read about this approval here.  Cancers of the breast, prostate, thyroid, bladder, colon, rectum and endometrium are just some of the cancers that have been found to have these biomarkers and would be new possible targets for Keytruda. There’s a great article which explains this approval in an easy way – click here to read.

Other approvals are anticipated.

So what about Neuroendocrine Neoplasms? 

I found the following trials for high-grade NEC:

Please also see the wonderful work done by NET Research Foundation who are using their funds to explore the use of Immunotherapy in NETs – check out their update by clicking here.

But what about just plain old well differentiated low or moderate grade NETs? 

I found the following:

Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) in combination with Lanreotide

According to the trial documentation, it’s for patients with non-resectable, recurrent, or metastatic well or moderately (sic) differentiated gastroenteropancreatic neuroendocrine tumors (GEP-NETs). i.e. most of us.  It is recruiting.   You can read about the PLANET trial by clicking here.  Make sure you fully check the inclusion and exclusion criteria. Please note the incorrect reference to ‘moderately differentiated’ – this is no longer used in the grading classification for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms.

Study of Pembrolizumab in Participants With Advanced Solid Tumors (MK-3475-028/KEYNOTE-28) – NCT03054806

You can read an update of progress by clicking here. This study will assess the efficacy and safety of Pembrolizumab (Keytruda) administered to participants with incurable advanced biomarker-positive solid tumors that have not responded to current therapy or for which current therapy is not appropriate.  This study may be a overarching document for a number of sub-trials which will individually recruit. Apologies for the use of the antiquated and misleading term ‘Carcinoid’ within the document.

Study for the Evaluation of Pembrorolizumab (MK-3475) in Patients with Rare Tumors (Experimental: Paraganglioma-Pheochromocytoma Group)

This study is recruiting at MD Andersen Houston Texas. Read more here.

Atezolizumab and Bevacizumab in Solid Tumors

In 2016, US FDA approved Atezolizumab (TECENTRIQ) for the treatment of patients with metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).  Bevacizumab (also known as AVISTAN) is a well known drug already used to treat many cancers.  Avastin is not actually Immunotherapy but is a tumor-starving (anti-angiogenic) therapy, i.e. its purpose is to prevent the growth of new blood vessels …. ergo this is a combo treatment using an Immunotherapy drug and an anti-angiogenic drug.


  • Well differentiated Neuroendocrine tumors, Grade 1 or grade 2 according to reviewing pathologist
  • Progressive disease over the preceding 12 months
  • Any number of prior therapies
  • Patients using a somatostatin analogue for symptom control must be on stable doses for 56 days prior to enrolment.

According to the trial documenation, there are two ‘baskets’ of types:  Pancreatic NET (pNET) and “extrapancreatic” (i.e.  beyond or not in the pancreas) including typical or atypical Lung NETs.  Merkel Cell Carcinoma (a type of Neuroendocrine Carcinoma of the skin) is also included in the trial.  You can read about this trial by clicking here.  Make sure you fully check the inclusion and exclusion criteria.  Again, within the trial documentation, please note the incorrect reference to ‘moderately differentiated’ – this is no longer used in the grading classification for Neuroendocrine Neoplasms.

By the way, what exactly does Immunotherapy do?

For those still wondering what cancer immunotherapy actually is, this is the most basic description I could find!

Immunotherapy – Hype or Hope?

I mentioned above that there was a lot of hype surrounding Keytruda and other immunotherapy treatments. You may therefore enjoy this CNN article about the hype and hope aspect, it was given considerable sharing at ASCO17 – read the article by clicking here 

If you’re on an Immunotherapy trial not listed here, please let me now so I can update the post.  Thanks in advance.


Thanks for reading


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Remember ….. in the war on Neuroendocrine Cancer, let’s not forget to win the battle for better quality of life!

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4 thoughts on “Immunotherapy: Studies with Neuroendocrine Neoplasms

    • Ronny Allan June 18, 2017 / 05:19

      I have no idea Donna, this is somethimg for your specialist. I’m also hoping the NET RF immunotherapy team would have seen this news and incorporated it into their own NET research. Personally I doubt if anyone has looked at Neuroendocrine yet.


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