Doxorubicin is standard therapy for advanced soft-tissue sarcoma (STS) with minimal improvement in efficacy and increased toxicity with addition of other cytotoxic agents. Pembrolizumab monotherapy has demonstrated modest activity and tolerability in previous advanced STS studies. This study combined pembrolizumab with doxorubicin to assess safety and efficacy in frontline and relapsed settings of advanced STS.

Patients and Methods:

This single-center, single-arm, phase II trial enrolled patients with unresectable or metastatic STS with no prior anthracycline therapy. Patients received pembrolizumab 200 mg i.v. and doxorubicin (60 mg/m2 cycle 1 with subsequent escalation to 75 mg/m2 as tolerated). The primary endpoint was safety. Secondary endpoints included overall survival (OS), objective response rate (ORR), and progression-free survival (PFS) based on RECIST v1.1 guidelines.


Thirty patients were enrolled (53.3% female; median age 61.5 years; 87% previously untreated) with 4 (13.3%) patients continuing treatment. The study met its primary safety endpoint by prespecified Bayesian stopping rules. The majority of grade 3+ treatment-emergent adverse events were hematologic (36.7% 3+ neutropenia). ORR was 36.7% [95% confidence interval (CI), 19.9–56.1%], with documented disease control in 80.0% (95% CI, 61.4–92.3%) of patients. Ten (33.3%) patients achieved partial response, 1 (3.3%) patient achieved complete response, and 13 (43.3%) patients had stable disease. Median PFS and OS were 5.7 months (6-month PFS rate: 44%) and 17 months (12-month OS rate: 62%), respectively. Programmed cell death ligand-1 (PD-L1) expression was associated with improved ORR, but not OS or PFS.


Combination pembrolizumab and doxorubicin has manageable toxicity and preliminary promising activity in treatment of patients with anthracycline-naive advanced STS.

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