Assessment of Pembrolizumab Therapy for the Treatment of Microsatellite Instability-High Gastric or Gastroesophageal Junction Cancer Among Patients in the KEYNOTE-059, KEYNOTE-061, and KEYNOTE-062 Clinical Trials

JAMA Oncol. 2021 Jun 1;7(6):895-902. doi: 10.1001/jamaoncol.2021.0275.


Importance: Immunotherapy has been associated with improved outcomes among patients who have received previous treatment for microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) tumors.

Objective: To evaluate the antitumor activity of pembrolizumab therapy vs chemotherapy among patients with MSI-H advanced gastric or gastroesophageal junction (G/GEJ) cancer regardless of the line of therapy in which it was received.

Design, setting, and participants: This post hoc analysis of the phase 2 KEYNOTE-059 (third-line treatment or higher) single-arm trial and the phase 3 KEYNOTE-061 (second-line treatment) and KEYNOTE-062 (first-line treatment) randomized trials included patients with advanced G/GEJ cancer from 52 sites in 16 countries enrolled in KEYNOTE-059, 148 sites in 30 countries enrolled in KEYNOTE-061, and 200 sites in 29 countries enrolled in KEYNOTE-062. Patients were enrolled from March 2, 2015, to March 26, 2016, in KEYNOTE-059; from June 4, 2015, to July 26, 2016, in KEYNOTE-061; and from September 18, 2015, to May 26, 2017, in KEYNOTE-062, with data cutoff dates of August 8, 2018; October 26, 2017; and March 26, 2019; respectively.

Interventions: Pembrolizumab monotherapy in KEYNOTE-059, pembrolizumab monotherapy or chemotherapy (paclitaxel) in KEYNOTE-061, and pembrolizumab monotherapy, pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy (cisplatin and 5-fluorouracil or capecitabine), or chemotherapy alone in KEYNOTE-062.

Main outcomes and measures: Response was assessed centrally using Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumours (RECIST), version 1.1; MSI-H status was determined centrally by polymerase chain reaction testing.

Results: At data cutoff, 7 of 174 patients (4.0%) in KEYNOTE-059, 27 of 514 patients (5.3%) in KEYNOTE-061, and 50 of 682 patients (7.3%) in KEYNOTE-062 had MSI-H tumors. Among those with MSI-H tumors, the median overall survival was not reached (NR) for pembrolizumab in KEYNOTE-059, KEYNOTE-061, and KEYNOTE-062 or for pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy in KEYNOTE-062. The median progression-free survival (PFS) for pembrolizumab was NR (95% CI, 1.1 months to NR) in KEYNOTE-059 and 17.8 months (95% CI, 2.7 months to NR) in KEYNOTE-061 (vs 3.5 months [95% CI, 2.0-9.8 months] for chemotherapy). In KEYNOTE-062, the median PFS was 11.2 months (95% CI, 1.5 months to NR) for pembrolizumab, NR (95% CI, 3.6 months to NR) for pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy, and 6.6 months (95% CI, 4.4-8.3 months) for chemotherapy. The objective response rate (ORR) for pembrolizumab was 57.1% in KEYNOTE-059 and 46.7% (vs 16.7% for chemotherapy) in KEYNOTE-061. In KEYNOTE-062, the ORR was 57.1% for pembrolizumab , 64.7% for pembrolizumab plus chemotherapy, and 36.8% for chemotherapy.

Conclusions and relevance: Findings from this study indicate that MSI-H status may be a biomarker for pembrolizumab therapy among patients with advanced G/GEJ cancer regardless of the line of therapy in which it was received.

Trial registration: Identifiers: NCT02335411, NCT02370498, and NCT02494583.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized* / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials, Phase II as Topic
  • Clinical Trials, Phase III as Topic
  • Esophagogastric Junction / pathology
  • Humans
  • Microsatellite Instability
  • Multicenter Studies as Topic
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Stomach Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Stomach Neoplasms* / genetics


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • pembrolizumab

Associated data