First-line avelumab in a cohort of 116 patients with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (JAVELIN Merkel 200): primary and biomarker analyses of a phase II study

J Immunother Cancer. 2021 Jul;9(7):e002646. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2021-002646.


Background: Avelumab (anti-programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1)) is approved in multiple countries for the treatment of metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma (mMCC), a rare and aggressive skin cancer. We report efficacy and safety data and exploratory biomarker analyses from a cohort of patients with mMCC treated with first-line avelumab in a phase II trial.

Methods: Patients with treatment-naive mMCC received avelumab 10 mg/kg intravenously every 2 weeks. The primary endpoint was durable response, defined as objective response (complete or partial response; assessed by independent review) lasting ≥6 months. Additional assessments included progression-free survival (PFS), overall survival (OS), safety, and biomarker analyses.

Results: In 116 patients treated with avelumab, median follow-up was 21.2 months (range: 14.9-36.6). Thirty-five patients had a response lasting ≥6 months, giving a durable response rate of 30.2% (95% CI: 22.0% to 39.4%). The objective response rate was 39.7% (95% CI: 30.7% to 49.2%). Median PFS was 4.1 months (95% CI: 1.4 to 6.1) and median OS was 20.3 months (95% CI: 12.4 to not estimable). Response rates were numerically higher in patients with PD-L1+ tumors, Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV)-negative tumors, and tumors with increased intratumoral CD8+ T-cell density. Exploratory analyses did not identify a biomarker that could reliably predict a response to first-line treatment with avelumab; however, a novel gene expression signature to identify the presence of MCPyV+ tumors was derived. Treatment-related adverse events (any grade) occurred in 94 (81.0%) patients, including grade 3/4 events in 21 (18.1%) patients; no treatment-related deaths occurred.

Conclusion: In patients with mMCC, first-line treatment with avelumab led to responses in 40% and durable responses in 30%, and was associated with a low rate of grade 3/4 treatment-related adverse events.

Trial registration: NCT02155647.

Keywords: clinical trials; gene expression profiling; immunotherapy; phase II as topic; skin neoplasms; tumor biomarkers.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / pharmacology
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell / drug therapy*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Neoplasm Metastasis


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • avelumab

Associated data