Scientific article
Open access

Study protocol of a phase II study to evaluate safety and efficacy of neo-adjuvant pembrolizumab and radiotherapy in localized rectal cancer

Published inBMC cancer, vol. 22, no. 1, 772
Publication date2022-07-15
First online date2022-07-15

Background: Reshaping the tumor microenvironment by novel immunotherapies represents a key strategy to improve cancer treatment. Nevertheless, responsiveness to these treatments is often correlated with the extent of T cell infiltration at the tumor site. Remarkably, microsatellite stable rectal cancer is characterized by poor T cell infiltration and, therefore, does not respond to immune checkpoint blockade. To date, the only available curative option for these patients relies on extensive surgery. With the aim to broaden the application of promising immunotherapies, it is necessary to develop alternative approaches to promote T cell infiltration into the tumor microenvironment of these tumors. In this regard, recent evidence shows that radiotherapy has profound immunostimulatory effects, hinting at the possibility of combining it with immunotherapy. The combination of long-course chemoradiotherapy and immune checkpoint inhibition was recently shown to be safe and yielded promising results in rectal cancer, however short-course radiotherapy and immune checkpoint inhibition have never been tested in these tumors.

Methods: Our clinical trial investigates the clinical and biological impact of combining pembrolizumab with short-course radiotherapy in the neo-adjuvant treatment of localized rectal cancer. This phase II non-randomized study will recruit 25 patients who will receive short-course preoperative radiotherapy (5 Gy × 5 days) and four injections of pembrolizumab starting on the same day and on weeks 4, 7 and 10. Radical surgery will be performed three weeks after the last pembrolizumab injection. Our clinical trial includes an extensive translational research program involving the transcriptomic and proteomic analysis of tumor and blood samples throughout the course of the treatment.

Discussion: Our study is the first clinical trial to combine short-course radiotherapy and immune checkpoint inhibition in rectal cancer, which could potentially result in a major breakthrough in the treatment of this cancer. Additionally, the translational research program will offer insights into immunological changes within the tumor and blood and their correlation with patient outcome. Taken together, our work will help optimizing future treatment combinations and, possibly, better selecting patients.

Trial registration: This study was registered with www.

Clinicaltrial: NCT04109755 . Registration date: June, 2020.

  • Pembrolizumab
  • Radiotherapy
  • Rectal cancer
  • T cell infiltration
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal, Humanized
  • Clinical Trials, Phase II as Topic
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy / adverse effects
  • Proteomics
  • Rectal Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Rectal Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Tumor Microenvironment
Citation (ISO format)
CORRO, Claudia et al. Study protocol of a phase II study to evaluate safety and efficacy of neo-adjuvant pembrolizumab and radiotherapy in localized rectal cancer. In: BMC cancer, 2022, vol. 22, n° 1, p. 772. doi: 10.1186/s12885-022-09820-w
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Article (Published version)
ISSN of the journal1471-2407

Technical informations

Creation07/21/2022 8:21:00 AM
First validation07/21/2022 8:21:00 AM
Update time03/16/2023 10:14:55 AM
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