Early 3þ3 trial dose-escalation phase I clinical trial design and suitability for immune checkpoint inhibitors

Osama E. Rahma, Joshua E. Reuss, Anita Giobbie-Hurder, Ghazaleh Shoja E. Razavi, Osama Abu-Shawer, Pooja Mehra, Seema Gupta, Richard Simon, Samir N. Khleif

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Despite the expansion of immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) indications, the relationship between ICI dose and toxicity or response is not well established. To understand this correlation, we performed a meta-analysis of ICI trials that used dose escalation. Experimental Design: We searched PubMed and abstracts presented at (inter)national meetings for trials using FDA-approved ICIs. The reported rates of grade 3–5 adverse events (G3–5 AE), immune-related adverse events (irAE), and response were correlated with doses within each ICI using marginal exact generalized linear models. Results: A total of 74 trials (7,469 patients) published between January 2010 and January 2017 were included. For ipilimumab, the incidence of G3–5 AEs was 34% with a significant 27% reduced risk in lower doses (P ¼ 0.002). However, no relationship was observed between dose and irAEs or response. For nivolumab, the incidence of G3–5 AEs was 20.1% which was lower in non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) compared with renal cell carcinoma (RCC) or melanoma (P ≤ 0.05) with no dose-toxicity relationship. In melanoma and NSCLC, a dose–response association was observed, which was not observed in RCC. For pembrolizumab, the incidence of G3–5 AEs was 13.3%, which was lower in melanoma compared with NSCLC (P ¼ 0.03) with no dose-toxicity relationship. In melanoma, lower dose levels correlated with decreased odds of response (P ¼ 0.01), a relationship that was not observed in NSCLC. Conclusions: Our analysis shows a lack of consistent dose-toxicity or dose–response correlation with ICIs. Therefore, dose escalation is not an appropriate design to conduct ICI studies. Here we present an innovative trial design for immune-modulating agents.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)485-491
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Cancer Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 15 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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