Ipilimumab alone or in combination with nivolumab in patients with advanced melanoma who have progressed or relapsed on PD-1 blockade: clinical outcomes and translational biomarker analyses

J Immunother Cancer. 2022 Jan;10(1):e003853. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2021-003853.


Background: There are no validated biomarkers that can aid clinicians in selecting who would best benefit from anticytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated antigen 4 monotherapy versus combination checkpoint blockade in patients with advanced melanoma who have progressive disease after programmed death 1 (PD-1) blockade.

Methods: We conducted a randomized multicenter phase II trial in patients with advanced melanoma. Patients were randomly assigned to receive either 1 mg/kg of nivolumab plus 3 mg/kg of ipilimumab or 3 mg/kg of ipilimumab every 3 weeks for up to four doses. Patients were stratified by histological subtype and prior response to PD-1 therapy. The primary clinical objective was overall response rate by week 18. Translational biomarker analyses were conducted in patients with blood and tissue samples.

Results: Objective responses were seen in 5 of 9 patients in the ipilimumab arm and 2 of 10 patients in the ipilimumab+nivolumab arm; disease control rates (DCRs) (66.7% vs 60.0%) and rates of grade 3-4 adverse events (56% vs 50%) were comparable between arms. In a pooled analysis, patients with clinical benefit (CB), defined as Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors response or progression-free for 6 months, showed increased circulating CD4+ T cells with higher polyfunctionality and interferon gamma production following treatment. Tumor profiling revealed enrichment of NRAS mutations and activation of transcriptional programs associated with innate and adaptive immunity in patients with CB.

Conclusions: In patients with advanced melanoma that previously progressed on PD-1 blockade, objective responses were seen in both arms, with comparable DCRs. Findings from biomarker analyses provided hypothesis-generating signals for validation in future studies of larger patient cohorts.

Trial registration number: NCT02731729.

Keywords: immunotherapy; melanoma; tumor microenvironment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antigen Presentation
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Interferon-gamma / biosynthesis
  • Ipilimumab / administration & dosage
  • Ipilimumab / adverse effects
  • Ipilimumab / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Melanoma / drug therapy*
  • Melanoma / immunology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local
  • Nivolumab / administration & dosage*
  • Nivolumab / adverse effects
  • Prospective Studies
  • Sequence Analysis, RNA
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • Ipilimumab
  • Nivolumab
  • Interferon-gamma

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02731729