Safety and activity of pembrolizumab in combination with rituximab in relapsed or refractory follicular lymphoma

Loretta J. Nastoupil, Collin K. Chin, Jason R. Westin, Nathan H. Fowler, Felipe Samaniego, Xiaoyun Cheng, Man Chun John Ma, Zhiqiang Wang, Fuliang Chu, Ly Dsouza, Chizobam Obi, Jennifer Mims, Lei Feng, Shouhao Zhou, Michael Green, Richard Eric Davis, Sattva S. Neelapu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


PD-1 blockade enhances the function of antitumor T cells and antibody-dependent, cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC) of NK cells. In a single-center, open-label, phase 2 trial, we tested the combination of pembrolizumab, an anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibody, and rituximab, an anti-CD20 monoclonal antibody that induces ADCC, in 30 patients with follicular lymphoma (FL) with rituximab-sensitive disease who had relapsed after $1 prior therapy. Pembrolizumab was administered at 200 mg IV every 3 weeks for up to 16 cycles, and rituximab was given at 375 mg/m2 IV weekly for 4 weeks in cycle 1 only. The most common grade 3/4 adverse events (AEs) were liver enzyme abnormalities (3%), diarrhea (3%), nausea (3%), aseptic meningitis (3%), and pancreatitis (3%). Low-grade immune-related AEs were reported in 80% of patients, including diarrhea (43%), liver enzyme abnormalities (33%), thyroid dysfunction (27%), and rash (23%). Grade 3 or 4 immune-related AEs occurred in 13% of the patients. Treatment-related AEs led to discontinuation in 6 (20%) patients. The overall response rate (primary end point) was 67%, and the complete response (CR) rate was 50%. Median progression-free survival (PFS) was 12.6 months (95% confidence interval, 8.2-27.6), the 3-year overall survival rate was 97%, and 23% of patients were in remission at a median follow-up of 35 months. The presence of a high CD81 T-effector score at baseline in the tumor was associated with induction of a CR and improved PFS. In this single-arm, phase 2 study, the combination of pembrolizumab and rituximab demonstrates favorable efficacy and safety profile in relapsed FL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1143-1151
Number of pages9
JournalBlood Advances
Issue number4
StatePublished - Feb 22 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Hematology


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