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The PACIFIC Trial—Where Do We Go from Here in Immunotherapy for Non-small Cell Lung Cancer?

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Published Online: Nov 26th 2018 Oncology & Hematology Review. 2018;14(2):65–6 DOI:
Authors: Martin J Edelman
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Until recently, the standard of care for patients with stage III (locally advanced), unresectable non–small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) was platinum-based, doublet chemotherapy together with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy).1 However, long-term outcomes for these patients is poor, with 5-year survival rates ranging between 15–25%, while long-term survival data are rarely reported.2 Immune checkpoint inhibitors targeting programmed death-1 (PD-1) and its ligand (PD-L1) have shown great promise in the treatment of advanced NSCLC.3 In 2017, results from the phase III PACIFIC trial have shown that durvalumab, a selective, monoclonal antibody that blocks PD-L1 binding to PD-1 and CD80, allowing T cells to recognize and kill tumor cells, improved progression-free survival compared with placebo after concurrent chemoradiation therapy in patients with stage III, unresectable NSCLC.4 Recently published results from the PACIFIC trial show that the use of durvalumab also confers an overall survival (OS) advantage.5

Q. What did the updated results of the PACIFIC trial tell us about overall survival with durvalumab and how are these likely to impact on the standard of care for stage III NSCLC?

The OS results demonstrated a clear and substantial advantage for the use of durvalumab after concurrent chemoradiotherapy versus standard of care.5 This has unequivocally changed the standard of care for patients with stage III NSCLC. At 2 years, OS for those treated with durvalumab was 66% versus 56% for standard of care. This advantage was present throughout the entire period of the trial, and both survival curves appear to plateau at 3 years.

Q. How did PD-L1 expression influence response to durvalumab?

PD-L1 testing was not required and results were not available for 37% of patients. A pre-specified cut off of <25% benefitted in terms of progression-free survival (PFS), but not OS. An unplanned analysis that looked at <1% expression did not demonstrate a PFS or OS advantage, while 1–24% demonstrated PFS and likely OS benefit. Given the incomplete data set, use of an unusual cut-off point in the pre-planned analysis, etc., I would not utilize PD-L1 as a criterion for treatment with durvalumab at this time.

Q. What further studies are needed to optimize therapy with durvalumab?

The PACIFIC study raises numerous questions regarding the role of immunotherapy in stage III disease. Should immunotherapy be employed concurrent with chemoradiotherapy? What is the optimal duration of immunotherapy? Is there an optimal chemotherapy regimen? How do we identify patients most likely to respond to durvalumab based on molecular phenotypes? Some of these questions are now being addressed in prospective trials (for example, Identifiers: NCT03631784, NCT03693300 and NCT02621398).

Q. What are the current obstacles to the widespread use of immunotherapy in NSCLC?

Within the US, there are probably few obstacles to the use of immunotherapy as it is supported by National Comprehensive Cancer Network guidelines and a US Food and Drug Administration indication. In other countries, the cost of these therapies may limit availability. Although these agents have promising clinical activity, response rates still remain low except for tumors expressing PD-L1 at high levels. There is a need for clinically useful biomarkers to identify which patients are most likely to respond to treatment. We also need further studies evaluating novel combinations combining PD-1 or PD-L1 inhibitors with other agents such as chemotherapy, radiation, and other immunotherapeutic agents. Another potential barrier to widespread use of immunotherapy has been a concern about toxicities, but these are generally manageable.

Q. What do you expect to be the next major developments in immunotherapy for NSCLC?

There are numerous trials currently underway to assess the value of new immunotherapy combinations designed to overcome resistance to current agents. For example, the POSEIDON phase II study ( Identifier: NCT03164616) is evaluating the combination of durvalumab and tremelimumab with chemotherapy in patients with metastatic NSCLC. The use of low-dose combination checkpoint inhibition with nivolumab and ipilimumab appears to be a promising approach. The CheckMate 9LA ( Identifier: NCT03215706),6 CheckMate 227 ( Identifier: NCT02477826)7 and CheckMate 722 ( Identifier: NCT02864251)8 studies are investigating the combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab with chemotherapy in various treatment settings. The KEYNOTE 021 trial ( Identifier: NCT02039674)9 will focus on pembrolizumab plus ipilimumab, as well as the combined use of pembrolizumab with one or more standard chemotherapy agents. Hopefully, one or more of these studies will be positive. Another interesting question is whether durvalumab or other PD-1/L1 antibodies could be useful in earlier settings. The IONESCO trial ( Identifier: NCT03030131)10 is evaluating neoadjuvant therapy with durvalumab in early stage (I-IIIA) NSCLC.

Article Information:

Martin J Edelman has received
research funding from Bristol, Apexigen, and
Genentech, and has served on the PACIFIC DMC.

Review Process

This is an expert interview and, as such,
has not undergone the journal’s standard peer review


The named author meets the International
Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE) criteria
for authorship of this manuscript, takes responsibility
for the integrity of the work as a whole, and has given
final approval to the version to be published.


Martin J Edelman,
Department of Hematology/Oncology, Fox Chase
Cancer Center, 333 Cottman Ave, Philadelphia,
PA 19111, US. E:


No funding was received in the publication of this article.


This article is published under the Creative
Commons Attribution Noncommercial License, which
permits any noncommercial use, distribution, adaptation,
and reproduction provided the original author(s) and
source are given appropriate credit. © The Authors 2018.


Medical writing assistance was
provided by Katrina Mountfort of Touch Medical Media Ltd,
and supported by Touch Medical Media Ltd.




  1. Yoon SM, Shaikh T, Hallman M. Therapeutic management options for stage III non-small cell lung cancer. World J Clin Oncol. 2017;8:1–20.
  2. Vrankar M, Stanic K. Long-term survival of locally advanced stage III non-small cell lung cancer patients treated with chemoradiotherapy and perspectives for the treatment with immunotherapy. Radiol Oncol. 2018;52:281–8.
  3. Rolfo C, Caglevic C, Santarpia M, et al. Immunotherapy in NSCLC: a promising and revolutionary weapon. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2017;995:97–125.
  4. Antonia SJ, Villegas A, Daniel D, et al. Durvalumab after chemoradiotherapy in stage III non-small-cell lung cancer. N Engl J Med. 2017;377:1919–29.
  5. Antonia SJ, Villegas A, Daniel D, et al. Overall survival with durvalumab after chemoradiotherapy in stage III NSCLC. N Engl J Med. 2018; doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1809697 [Epub ahead of print].
  6. A Study of Nivolumab and Ipilimumab Combined With Chemotherapy Compared to Chemotherapy Alone in First Line NSCLC (CheckMate 9LA). Identifier: NCT03215706. Available at: (accessed November 1, 2018).
  7. An Investigational Immuno-therapy Trial of Nivolumab, or Nivolumab Plus Ipilimumab, or Nivolumab Plus Platinum-doublet Chemotherapy, Compared to Platinum Doublet Chemotherapy in Patients With Stage IV Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) (CheckMate 227). Identifier: NCT02477826. Available at: (accessed November 1, 2018).
  8. A Study of Nivolumab + Chemotherapy or Nivolumab + Ipilimumab Versus Chemotherapy in Patients With EGFR Mutation, T790M Negative NSCLC Who Have Failed 1L EGFR TKI Therapy (CheckMate722). Identifier: NCT02864251. Available at: (accessed November 1, 2018).
  9. A Study of Pembrolizumab (MK-3475) in Combination With Chemotherapy or Immunotherapy in Participants With Non-small Cell Lung Cancer (MK-3475-021/KEYNOTE-021). Identifier: NCT02039674. Available at: (accessed November 1, 2018).
  10. Immune Neoadjuvant Therapy Study of Durvalumab in Early Stage Non-small Cell Lung Cancer (IONESCO). Identifier: NCT03030131. Available at: (accessed November 1, 2018).

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