Rationale and design of the POLEM trial: avelumab plus fluoropyrimidine-based chemotherapy as adjuvant treatment for stage III mismatch repair deficient or POLE exonuclease domain mutant colon cancer: a phase III randomised study

ESMO Open. 2020 Feb;5(1):e000638. doi: 10.1136/esmoopen-2019-000638.


Background: 10%-15% of early-stage colon cancers harbour either deficient mismatch repair (dMMR), microsatellite instability high (MSI-H) or POLE exonuclease domain mutations, and are characterised by high tumour mutational burden and increased lymphocytic infiltrate. Metastatic dMMR colon cancers are highly sensitive to immune checkpoint inhibition, and recent data show POLE-mutant tumours are similarly responsive. We are conducting a phase III randomised trial to determine if the addition of the anti-PD-L1 antibody avelumab following adjuvant chemotherapy improves disease-free survival (DFS) in patients with stage III dMMR/MSI-H or POLE mutant colon cancer and is a cost-effective approach for the UK National Health Service (NHS).

Methods: We are recruiting patients with completely resected, stage III colon cancer confirmed to have dMMR/MSI-H, locally or POLE exonuclease domain mutation on central testing. Eligible patients are randomised in a 1:1 ratio to standard fluoropyrimidine-based chemotherapy (capecitabine, oxaliplatin for 12 weeks or capecitabine for 24 weeks) or chemotherapy, followed by avelumab (10 mg/kg, 2 weekly for 24 weeks). Stratification is by chemotherapy received and MMR/MSI-H status. The primary endpoint is DFS. Secondary endpoints include overall survival, toxicity, quality of life and health resource use. The 3-year DFS rate in the control arm is expected to be ~75%. Avelumab is expected to improve the 3-year DFS rate by 12% (ie, 87%). Target accrual is 402 patients, which provides 80% power to detect an HR of 0.48 for DFS at a two-sided alpha of 0.05. This national, multicentre phase III trial is sponsored by the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and it is anticipated that approximately 40 centres in the UK will participate. This study opened to recruitment in August 2018.

Trial registration number: NCT03827044.

Keywords: POLE mutation; adjuvant therapy; colon cancer; microsatellite instability; mismatch repair.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03827044