Safety and antitumor activity of the anti-PD-1 antibody pembrolizumab in patients with advanced colorectal carcinoma

PLoS One. 2017 Dec 28;12(12):e0189848. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0189848. eCollection 2017.


Background: Colorectal cancers (CRCs) expressing programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) have poor prognosis. In the multicohort KEYNOTE-028 trial, the anti-PD-1 antibody pembrolizumab was evaluated in 20 PD-L1-positive advanced solid tumors. Herein, we report results for the advanced CRC cohort.

Methods: Patients with advanced, treatment-resistant PD-L1-positive carcinoma of the colon or rectum were enrolled, regardless of microsatellite instability (MSI) status. Pembrolizumab 10 mg/kg was administered every 2 weeks for up to 2 years or until disease progression/unacceptable toxicity. Response was assessed every 8 weeks for the first 6 months and every 12 weeks thereafter. Primary end points were safety and overall response rate by investigator review per Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors version 1.1. Data cutoff was June 20, 2016.

Results: Of 137 patients with CRC and samples evaluable for PD-L1 expression, 33 (24%) had PD-L1-positive tumors, of which 23 were enrolled. Median follow-up was 5.3 months, and 8 patients (35%) reported treatment-related adverse events (AEs), most commonly fatigue (n = 3, 13%), stomatitis (n = 2, 9%), and asthenia (n = 2, 9%). One patient (4%) experienced grade 4 treatment-related increased blood bilirubin. No grade 3 AEs, discontinuations, or deaths were attributed to treatment. Most patients (n = 15, 65%) experienced progressive disease. One partial response occurred in a patient (4%) with MSI-high CRC.

Conclusion: Pembrolizumab demonstrated a favorable safety profile in advanced PD-L1-positive CRC. Antitumor activity was observed in a single patient with MSI-high CRC, warranting further evaluation in this patient population. ( registration: NCT02054806).

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase I
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / adverse effects
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / therapeutic use*
  • B7-H1 Antigen / immunology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Colorectal Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • CD274 protein, human
  • pembrolizumab

Associated data


Grant support

This study was funded by Merck & Co., Inc., Kenilworth, NJ, USA. All authors, including Merck employees, participated in study design, data collection and analysis, interpretation of data, writing and/or review of the manuscript, as well as the decision to submit the manuscript for publication. The funder provided support in the form of salaries for authors MG, SS, and KS, but did not have any additional role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. The specific roles of these authors are articulated in the ‘author contributions’ section.