FDA Approves First Therapy Specifically for High-Risk Neuroblastoma

The FDA has approved Unituxin as a frontline therapy for pediatric patients with high-risk neuroblastoma who responded to prior first-line therapy.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Unituxin (dinutuximab) in combination with interleukin-2, granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) and isotretinoin as a frontline therapy for pediatric patients with high-risk neuroblastoma who responded to prior first-line multiagent, multimodality therapy.

Unituxin is the first therapy specifically approved as a treatment for patients with neuroblastoma. The approval was based on findings from the phase 3 ANBL0032 study, which demonstrated an event-free survival (EFS) rate of 63 percent with Unituxin plus isotretinoin compared with 46 percent in patients treated with isotretinoin alone. Overall survival (OS) was improved by 42 percent with the addition of Unituxin.

“Unituxin marks the first approval for a therapy aimed specifically for the treatment of patients with high-risk neuroblastoma,” Richard Pazdur, director of the Office of Hematology and Oncology Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in a statement. “Unituxin fulfills a critical need by providing a treatment option that prolongs survival in children with high-risk neuroblastoma.”

The treatment was approved along with a warning regarding nerve cell irritation, which could cause severe pain and nerve damage. Additionally, the treatment could cause life-threatening infusion reactions, including upper airway swelling, difficulty breathing, and low blood pressure, during or shortly following completion of the infusion.

In the ANBL0032 study, 226 patients with newly diagnosed high-risk neuroblastoma were randomized to receive Unituxin plus isotretinoin or isotretinoin alone. Patients in the study had received induction therapy and myeloablative consolidation with stem cell rescue. The median age of patients was 3.8 years.

The investigator-assessed median EFS was not reached in the Unituxin arm compared with 1.9 years with isotretinoin alone. At the most recent analysis, four patients on the isotretinoin arm crossed over to receive Unituxin. The median OS has not yet been reached for either arm.

“The FDA approval of dinutuximab represents the culmination of a remarkably productive collaboration between researchers of the NCI-supported Children's Oncology Group, the manufacturing and clinical research groups of NCI, and the oncology team at United Therapeutics,” Malcolm Smith, associate branch chief, Pediatrics in the Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program at NCI, said in a statement. “Children with neuroblastoma will benefit from this collaboration, and the drug development pathway blazed by dinutuximab will likely be followed in the future to develop other novel agents directed against pediatric cancer therapeutic targets.”

Comprehensive side effect management is required to manage the adverse events associated with Unituxin. To mitigate neuropathic pain, intravenous opioids are required before, during and two hours after Unituxin infusion. Additionally, intravenous hydration and premedication with antihistamines, analgesics and antipyretics, is required.

The most common serious adverse reactions are infections, infusion reactions, hypokalemia, hypotension, pain, fever, and capillary leak syndrome.

"After decades of pursuits, I am pleased to see that dinutuximab has received FDA approval and may now benefit high risk neuroblastoma patients," lead investigator of the ANBL0032 study Alice Yu, University of California San Diego, said in a statement. "This is not only the first successful immunotherapeutic to target a non-protein antigen, but also to be developed from an Investigational New Drug Application through phase 3 trials largely through investigator-initiated effort and NCI support."

Unituxin is a chimeric monoclonal antibody that binds to ganglioside GD2, which is commonly overexpressed in malignant melanoma, neuroblastoma, osteosarcoma and small cell lung cancer. Ongoing studies, including phase 3 investigations, continue to assess Unituxin in various combinations for patients with neuroblastoma.