Making Progress in Genitourinary Cancers: MSK Physicians Share Research Advances at Annual ASCO GU Symposium

Dr. Robert Motzer speaks to a patient

Dr. Robert Motzer speaks to a patient

Update: On August 11, 2021, the FDA approved pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) plus lenvatinib (Lenvima®) for first-line treatments for patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC).

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) physicians and scientists presented new research at the 2021 American Society of Clinical Oncology Genitourinary Cancers Symposium held virtually February 11-13. Notably, MSK medical oncologist Robert Motzer, MD, presented encouraging data from a phase III randomized study that assessed two new treatment combinations as first-line treatments that may prolong survival in people with advanced kidney cancer. Dr. Motzer’s findings were also published on February 13 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

In this large, international trial involving 200 sites across 20 countries, Dr. Motzer and a team of investigators evaluated two new regimens as first-line treatments for patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma (RCC) — lenvatinib (Lenvima®) plus pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) and lenvatinib plus everolimus (Afinitor®) — as compared with the current standard of care, sunitinib (Sutent®). They found that treatment with lenvatinib plus pembrolizumab was associated with significantly longer progression-free survival and a higher percentage of patients with an objective response versus sunitinib. Furthermore, results for overall survival were significantly longer in favor of lenvatinib plus pembrolizumab over sunitinib. Treatment with lenvatinib plus everolimus was also associated with a higher percentage of patients with an objective response and longer progression-free survival than sunitinib, but it did not have a significantly greater effect on overall survival.

“We are encouraged by all the data,” said Dr. Motzer. “As physician-researchers, we consistently strive to provide our patients with the most effective therapies and give those with advanced disease more options. These results could lead to a change in the standard of care for these patients.” 

Dr. Motzer and colleagues concluded that lenvatinib plus pembrolizumab achieved significant improvements in progression-free survival, overall survival, and objective response rate versus sunitinib in the first-line treatment of patients with advanced renal cell carcinoma.

Continuing to Make Strides in Research for Kidney Cancer Patients

Cancer immunotherapy was born at MSK a little over a century ago. Since then, physician-scientists across MSK have led the effort to develop immune-based treatments for different types of cancer. MSK has been at the epicenter of discoveries in the field, and the institution’s work is bringing exciting new treatment options to people around the world. MSK physicians have extensive experience using immunotherapy to treat people with melanoma, kidney cancer, lung cancer, and other cancers, as well as in handling immune-related side effects.

Despite available therapies for advanced metastatic kidney cancer, new options are needed to improve long-term disease control and patient survival. Without treatment, kidney cancer can be an aggressive disease. At the time of diagnosis, the cancer has already spread to other organs in approximately 30 percent of people, and about one-third of people whose disease is confined to the kidney will have a relapse. In 2021, it is estimated that over 73,000 new cases of RCC will be diagnosed and there will be nearly 15,000 deaths due to RCC in the United States — and numbers are expected to rise significantly in the next decade. 

“Over the years we have made very encouraging progress in our overall understanding and treatment of advanced kidney cancer; however, ongoing research is very crucial so we can give patients better treatment options to help manage their disease,” said Dr. Motzer.  

This trial was sponsored by Eisai, Merck Sharp, and Dohme; CLEAR Clinical number NCT02811861.