Bintrafusp alfa, a bifunctional fusion protein targeting TGF-β and PD-L1, in advanced squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck: Results from a phase i cohort

Byoung Chul Cho, Amaury Daste, Alain Ravaud, Sébastien Salas, Nicolas Isambert, Edward McClay, Ahmad Awada, Christian Borel, Laureen S. Ojalvo, Christoph Helwig, P. Alexander Rolfe, James L. Gulley, Nicolas Penel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Citations (Scopus)


Background We report the clinical activity and safety of bintrafusp alfa, a first-in-class bifunctional fusion protein composed of the extracellular domain of the transforming growth factor β (TGF-β)RII receptor (a TGF-β 'trap') fused to a human IgG1 monoclonal antibody blocking programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1), in patients with heavily pretreated squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck (SCCHN). Methods In this phase I dose-expansion cohort, patients with advanced SCCHN not amenable to curative therapy that progressed/recurred after platinum therapy in the recurrent/metastatic setting, or <6 months after platinum therapy in the locally advanced setting, received bintrafusp alfa 1200 mg intravenously every 2 weeks. The primary endpoint was confirmed best overall response (BOR; Response Evaluation Criteria for Solid Tumors (RECIST) 1.1) per independent review committee (IRC); other endpoints included BOR per investigator and safety. Results As of August 24, 2018, 32 patients had received bintrafusp alfa (median follow-up 86.4 weeks; range 2-97). Per IRC, the confirmed objective response rate (ORR) was 13% (95% CI 4% to 29%; 4 partial responses (PR)); 4 patients had stable disease (SD) (disease control rate 25%; 95% CI 12% to 43%). Per investigator, there were 5 PRs (ORR, 16%), including 2 patients who developed delayed PRs after initial disease increase (total clinical response rate 22%). Responses (ORRs) were observed in patients with PD-L1-positive (12%), PD-L1-negative (17%; 73-10 antibody for immunohistochemistry), human papillomavirus (HPV)-positive (33%) and HPV-negative tumors (5%). Grade 3 treatment-related adverse events (TRAEs) were reported in 11 patients (34%), with no grade 4 TRAEs or treatment-related deaths. Conclusions Bintrafusp alfa showed clinical activity across subgroups of PD-L1 expression and in HPV-positive tumors and had a manageable safety profile in patients with heavily pretreated advanced SCCHN. Activity in HPV-positive tumors is favorable compared with historical data from PD-L1 inhibitors and is being further investigated in an ongoing study of HPV-associated tumors. Trial registration number NCT02517398.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberjitc-2020-000664
JournalJournal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Jul 7

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Competing interests BCC reports research funding from Novartis, Bayer, AstraZeneca, MOGAM Institute, Dong-A ST, Champions Oncology, Janssen, Yuhan, Ono, Dizal Pharma, MSD; consulting role for Novartis, AstraZeneca, Boehringer Ingelheim, Roche, BMS, Ono, Yuhan, Pfizer, Eli Lilly, Janssen, Takeda, MSD; stock ownership in TheraCanVac; royalties from Champions Oncology. CH is an employee of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. LSO and PAR are employees of EMD Serono, Billerica, Massachusetts, USA, a business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. JLG reports that the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with EMD Serono. Resources are provided by this CRADA to the NCI. JLG gets no personal funding from this CRADA but is the co-primary investigator of the CRADA.

Funding Information:
Acknowledgements The authors would like to thank the patients and their families, investigators, co-investigators and study teams at each of the participating centers and at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and EMD Serono Research & Development Institute, Billerica, Massachusetts, USA (a business of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany). The authors would also like to thank Christian Ihling, of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, for his substantial contribution to the immune phenotype analysis. Medical writing support was provided by Shaun Rosebeck, PhD, of ClinicalThinking, Hamilton, New Jersey, USA, which was also funded by Merck KGaA and GlaxoSmithKline in accordance with Good Publication Practice (GPP3) guidelines (

Funding Information:
Funding Merck KGaA provided the study drug and worked with investigators on the trial design and plan, collection and analysis of data and interpretation of results. This work was supported by Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, and is part of an alliance between Merck KGaA and GlaxoSmithKline. Funding for a professional medical writer with access to the data was provided by Merck KGaA and GlaxoSmithKline. No grant number is applicable.

Publisher Copyright:
© Author(s) (or their employer(s)) 2020. Re-use permitted under CC BY-NC. No commercial re-use. See rights and permissions. Published by BMJ.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'Bintrafusp alfa, a bifunctional fusion protein targeting TGF-β and PD-L1, in advanced squamous cell carcinoma of the head and neck: Results from a phase i cohort'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this