A phase 2 study of combined chemo-immunotherapy with cisplatin-pembrolizumab and radiation for unresectable vulvar squamous cell carcinoma

J Transl Med. 2020 Sep 14;18(1):350. doi: 10.1186/s12967-020-02523-5.


Background: Unresectable or metastatic vulvar cancer has relatively poor outcomes despite chemotherapy-sensitized radiation therapy and combination cytotoxic therapy. Despite the virus-associated and immunogenic nature of this disease, novel immunotherapy options that exploit this advantage are currently lacking. Platinum agents such as cisplatin have been shown to prime dendritic cells for T-cell costimulation, promote downregulation of inhibitory checkpoint molecules, and sensitize tumor cells to cytotoxic T-cell killing. Radiation therapy has also been shown to promote immunogenetic cell death as monotherapy and in combination with cisplatin. In combination with pembrolizumab, cisplatin-sensitized radiation is hypothesized to increase overall response rates and recurrence-free survival in patients with vulvar cancer, via induction of an anti-tumor inflammatory response.

Methods: We propose a single-arm phase II clinical trial of pembrolizumab combined with cisplatin-sensitized radiation therapy for women with unresectable, locally advanced, or metastatic vulvar cancer. The first three patients with locally advanced or unresectable disease will receive cycle 1 of pembrolizumab followed by a break and resumption of pembrolizumab at cycle 4 and as part of a safety cohort. All other patients, including the fourth patient with locally advanced/unresectable disease, will receive weekly cisplatin and pembrolizumab every 3 weeks, concurrently with daily radiation therapy. Following the completion of Cis-RT, patients will continue pembrolizumab maintenance for a total of 12 cycles. Archived tissue will be used for HPV status, MSI status, PD-L1, and TIL stratification post hoc. Imaging will be performed at baseline and every 3 cycles (21-day cycles) as per standard-of-care. Laboratory analysis will occur on the first day of each cycle.

Discussion: The combination of cisplatin-sensitized radiation and immune checkpoint blockade has not been evaluated in the upfront setting for vulvar cancer. In this rare malignancy, there are limited interventional clinical trials. This trial is designed to be as accessible as possible by allowing patients to receive cisplatin and radiation locally according to accepted standard-of-care while receiving pembrolizumab and adverse event monitoring at a centralized site. A robust suite of translational correlative studies has also been built into the trial to evaluate tumor-directed immune activation. Trial registration NCT04430699.

Keywords: Chemoimmunotherapy; Chemoradiation; Immunotherapy; Pembrolizumab; Vulvar cancer.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell*
  • Cisplatin / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Vulvar Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Vulvar Neoplasms* / radiotherapy


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • pembrolizumab
  • Cisplatin

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT04430699