First-line cemiplimab monotherapy and continued cemiplimab beyond progression plus chemotherapy for advanced non-small-cell lung cancer with PD-L1 50% or more (EMPOWER-Lung 1): 35-month follow-up from a mutlicentre, open-label, randomised, phase 3 trial

Lancet Oncol. 2023 Sep;24(9):989-1001. doi: 10.1016/S1470-2045(23)00329-7. Epub 2023 Aug 14.


Background: Cemiplimab provided significant survival benefit to patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer with PD-L1 tumour expression of at least 50% and no actionable biomarkers at 1-year follow-up. In this exploratory analysis, we provide outcomes after 35 months' follow-up and the effect of adding chemotherapy to cemiplimab at the time of disease progression.

Methods: EMPOWER-Lung 1 was a multicentre, open-label, randomised, phase 3 trial. We enrolled patients (aged ≥18 years) with histologically confirmed squamous or non-squamous advanced non-small-cell lung cancer with PD-L1 tumour expression of 50% or more. We randomly assigned (1:1) patients to intravenous cemiplimab 350 mg every 3 weeks for up to 108 weeks, or until disease progression, or investigator's choice of chemotherapy. Central randomisation scheme generated by an interactive web response system governed the randomisation process that was stratified by histology and geographical region. Primary endpoints were overall survival and progression free survival, as assessed by a blinded independent central review (BICR) per Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumours version 1.1. Patients with disease progression on cemiplimab could continue cemiplimab with the addition of up to four cycles of chemotherapy. We assessed response in these patients by BICR against a new baseline, defined as the last scan before chemotherapy initiation. The primary endpoints were assessed in all randomly assigned participants (ie, intention-to-treat population) and in those with a PD-L1 expression of at least 50%. We assessed adverse events in all patients who received at least one dose of their assigned treatment. This trial is registered with, NCT03088540.

Findings: Between May 29, 2017, and March 4, 2020, we recruited 712 patients (607 [85%] were male and 105 [15%] were female). We randomly assigned 357 (50%) to cemiplimab and 355 (50%) to chemotherapy. 284 (50%) patients assigned to cemiplimab and 281 (50%) assigned to chemotherapy had verified PD-L1 expression of at least 50%. At 35 months' follow-up, among those with a verified PD-L1 expression of at least 50% median overall survival in the cemiplimab group was 26·1 months (95% CI 22·1-31·8; 149 [52%] of 284 died) versus 13·3 months (10·5-16·2; 188 [67%] of 281 died) in the chemotherapy group (hazard ratio [HR] 0·57, 95% CI 0·46-0·71; p<0·0001), median progression-free survival was 8·1 months (95% CI 6·2-8·8; 214 events occurred) in the cemiplimab group versus 5·3 months (4·3-6·1; 236 events occurred) in the chemotherapy group (HR 0·51, 95% CI 0·42-0·62; p<0·0001). Continued cemiplimab plus chemotherapy as second-line therapy (n=64) resulted in a median progression-free survival of 6·6 months (6·1-9·3) and overall survival of 15·1 months (11·3-18·7). The most common grade 3-4 treatment-emergent adverse events were anaemia (15 [4%] of 356 patients in the cemiplimab group vs 60 [17%] of 343 in the control group), neutropenia (three [1%] vs 35 [10%]), and pneumonia (18 [5%] vs 13 [4%]). Treatment-related deaths occurred in ten (3%) of 356 patients treated with cemiplimab (due to autoimmune myocarditis, cardiac failure, cardio-respiratory arrest, cardiopulmonary failure, septic shock, tumour hyperprogression, nephritis, respiratory failure, [n=1 each] and general disorders or unknown [n=2]) and in seven (2%) of 343 patients treated with chemotherapy (due to pneumonia and pulmonary embolism [n=2 each], and cardiac arrest, lung abscess, and myocardial infarction [n=1 each]). The safety profile of cemiplimab at 35 months, and of continued cemiplimab plus chemotherapy, was generally consistent with that previously observed for these treatments, with no new safety signals INTERPRETATION: At 35 months' follow-up, the survival benefit of cemiplimab for patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer was at least as pronounced as at 1 year, affirming its use as first-line monotherapy for this population. Adding chemotherapy to cemiplimab at progression might provide a new second-line treatment for patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer.

Funding: Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Sanofi.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Clinical Trial, Phase III
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / adverse effects
  • B7-H1 Antigen / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung* / pathology
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms* / pathology
  • Male
  • Pneumonia*


  • cemiplimab
  • B7-H1 Antigen

Associated data