Neo-adjuvant chemo/immunotherapy in the treatment of stage III (N2) non-small cell lung cancer: A phase I/II pilot study

G. B. Ratto, R. Costa, P. Maineri, A. Alloisio, M. T. Piras, A. D'Agostino, G. Tripodi, L. Rivabella, B. Dozin, P. Bruzzi, Giovanni Melioli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In a previous randomized study, we showed that adjuvant immunotherapy with tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes and recombinant interleukin-2 (rIL-2) significantly improved survival in resected N2-Non Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC) patients. The present study assesses feasibility, safety and potential efficacy of combined neo-adjuvant chemotherapy and immunotherapy with peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and rIL-2 in resectable N2-NSCLC patients. Eighty-two consecutive N2-NSCLC patients underwent neo-adjuvant chemotherapy with cisplatin and gemcitabine. Out of the 82 patients, 23 were also subjected to leukapheresis prior to neo-adjuvant chemotherapy while the remaining 59 did not. Collected PBMC were analyzed for viability and phenotype and then stored frozen in liquid nitrogen. Thawed PBMC were infused intravenously, 5 days before surgery. After the infusion, rIL-2 was administered subcutaneously until surgery. Only patients with a partial or complete response to neoadjuvant chemotherapy underwent surgery: 13 patients in the experimental immunotherapy group (A) and 32 in the reference group (B). The two groups were homogeneous for all major prognostic factors. Median leukapheresis yield was 10 billion PBMC, (range 3-24 billions). Two to six billion PBMC were infused. The phenotypic analysis showed that similar proportions of CD4 and CD8 cells were present in leukapheresis products, and thawed PBMC, as well as in T lymphocytes isolated from the removed tumours. No severe adverse effects were observed following immunotherapy. No significant differences in overall survival (OS) and event-free survival (EFS) were seen between the two groups. However, the 5-year OS in group A was almost twice as much compared to group B (59% vs 32%). After adjustment for major prognostic factors, a statistically significant 66% reduction in the hazard of death was seen in patients receiving immunotherapy. The OS benefit was more evident in patients with adenocarcinoma than in those with squamous cell carcinoma. This study supports the favorable toxicity profile and potential efficacy of combining neo-adjuvant chemotherapy and immunotherapy with PBMC and rIL-2 in the treatment of N2-NSCLC patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1005-1016
Number of pages12
JournalInternational Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2011


  • Neo-adjuvant chemotherapy
  • Neo-adjuvant immunotherapy
  • Non-small cell lung cancer
  • Surgery
  • Survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Immunology
  • Immunology and Allergy


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