Pembrolizumab and decitabine for refractory or relapsed acute myeloid leukemia

Meghali Goswami, Gege Gui, Laura W. Dillon, Katherine E. Lindblad, Julie Thompson, Janet Valdez, Dong Yun Kim, Jack Y. Ghannam, Karolyn A. Oetjen, Christin B. Destefano, Dana M. Smith, Hanna Tekleab, Yeusheng Li, Pradeep Dagur, Thomas Hughes, Jennifer L. Marté, Jaydira Del Rivero, Joanna Klubo-Gwiezdzinksa, James L. Gulley, Katherine R. CalvoCatherine Lai, Christopher S. Hourigan*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Background The powerful graft versus leukemia' effect thought partly responsible for the therapeutic effect of allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation in acute myeloid leukemia (AML) provides rationale for investigation of immune-based therapies in this high-risk blood cancer. There is considerable preclinical evidence for potential synergy between PD-1 immune checkpoint blockade and the hypomethylating agents already commonly used for this disease. Methods We report here the results of 17 H-0026 (PD-AML, NCT02996474), an investigator sponsored, single-institution, single-arm open-label 10-subject pilot study to test the feasibility of the first-in-human combination of pembrolizumab and decitabine in adult patients with refractory or relapsed AML (R-AML). Results In this cohort of previously treated patients, this novel combination of anti-PD-1 and hypomethylating therapy was feasible and associated with a best response of stable disease or better in 6 of 10 patients. Considerable immunological changes were identified using T cell receptor β sequencing as well as single-cell immunophenotypic and RNA expression analyses on sorted CD3+ T cells in patients who developed immune-related adverse events (irAEs) during treatment. Clonal T cell expansions occurred at irAE onset; single-cell sequencing demonstrated that these expanded clones were predominately CD8+ effector memory T cells with high cell surface PD-1 expression and transcriptional profiles indicative of activation and cytotoxicity. In contrast, no such distinctive immune changes were detectable in those experiencing a measurable antileukemic response during treatment. Conclusion Addition of pembrolizumab to 10-day decitabine therapy was clinically feasible in patients with R-AML, with immunological changes from PD-1 blockade observed in patients experiencing irAEs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere003392
JournalJournal for immunotherapy of cancer
Issue number1
StatePublished - 11 Jan 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • adaptive immunity
  • immunotherapy
  • investigational
  • lymphocyte activation
  • therapies
  • translational medical research


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