New first line treatment options of clear cell renal cell cancer patients with PD-1 or PD-L1 immune-checkpoint inhibitor-based combination therapies
In metastatic renal cell carcinoma (mRCC) the PD-1 immune-checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) Nivolumab became a standard second line treatment option in 2015 based on a significant improvement of overall survival compared to Everolimus. Current pivotal phase 3 studies showed that PD-1 ICI-based combinations were more efficacious than the VEGFR-TKI Sunitinib, a previous standard of care, leading to approval of three new regimens as guideline-recommended first-line treatment. Nivolumab plus Ipilimumab is characterized by a survival advantage, a high rate of complete response and durable remissions in intermediate and poor prognosis patients. Despite frequent immune-mediated side effects, fewer symptoms and a better quality of life were observed compared to Sunitinib. Pembrolizumab or Avelumab plus Axitinib were characterized by an improved progression-free-survival and a high response rate with a low rate of intrinsic resistance. In addition, Pembrolizumab plus Axitinib reached a significant survival benefit. The side effect profile is driven by the chronic toxicity of Axitinib, but there is additional risk of immune-mediated side effects of the PD-1/PD-L1 ICIs. The quality of life data published so far do not suggest any improvement regarding patient-reported outcomes compared to the previous standard Sunitinib. The PD-1/PD-L1 ICIs thus form the backbone of the first-line therapy of mRCC.