Background Ceritinib is a next-generation anaplastic lymphoma kinase (ALK) inhibitor, which has shown robust anti-tumour efficacy, along with intracranial activity, in patients with ALK-rearranged non-small-cell lung cancer. In phase 1 and 2 studies, ceritinib has been shown to be highly active in both ALK inhibitor-naive and ALK inhibitor-pretreated patients who had progressed after chemotherapy (mostly multiple lines). In this study, we compared the efficacy and safety of ceritinib versus single-agent chemotherapy in patients with advanced ALK-rearranged non-small-cell lung cancer who had previously progressed following crizotinib and platinum-based doublet chemotherapy. Methods In this randomised, controlled, open-label, phase 3 trial, we recruited patients aged at least 18 years with ALK-rearranged stage IIIB or IV non-small-cell lung cancer (with at least one measurable lesion) who had received previous chemotherapy (one or two lines, including a platinum doublet) and crizotinib and had subsequent disease progression, from 99 centres across 20 countries. Other inclusion criteria were a WHO performance status of 0–2, adequate organ function and laboratory test results, a life expectancy of at least 12 weeks, and having recovered from previous anticancer treatment-related toxicities. We randomly allocated patients (1:1; with blocking [block size of four]; stratified by WHO performance status [0 vs 1–2] and presence or absence of brain metastases) to oral ceritinib 750 mg per day fasted (in 21 day treatment cycles) or chemotherapy (intravenous pemetrexed 500 mg/m2 or docetaxel 75 mg/m2 [investigator choice], every 21 days). Patients who discontinued chemotherapy because of progressive disease could cross over to the ceritinib group. The primary endpoint was progression-free survival, assessed by a masked independent review committee using Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors 1.1 in the intention-to-treat population, assessed every 6 weeks until month 18 and every 9 weeks thereafter. This trial is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov, number NCT01828112, and is ongoing but no longer recruiting patients. Findings Between June 28, 2013, and Nov 2, 2015, we randomly allocated 231 patients; 115 (50%) to ceritinib and 116 (50%) to chemotherapy (40 [34%] to pemetrexed, 73 [63%] to docetaxel, and three [3%] discontinued before receiving treatment). Median follow-up was 16·5 months (IQR 11·5–21·4). Ceritinib showed a significant improvement in median progression-free survival compared with chemotherapy (5·4 months [95% CI 4·1–6·9] for ceritinib vs 1·6 months [1·4–2·8] for chemotherapy; hazard ratio 0·49 [0·36–0·67]; p<0·0001). Serious adverse events were reported in 49 (43%) of 115 patients in the ceritinib group and 36 (32%) of 113 in the chemotherapy group. Treatment-related serious adverse events were similar between groups (13 [11%] in the ceritinib group vs 12 [11%] in the chemotherapy group). The most frequent grade 3–4 adverse events in the ceritinib group were increased alanine aminotransferase concentration (24 [21%] of 115 vs two [2%] of 113 in the chemotherapy group), increased γ glutamyltransferase concentration (24 [21%] vs one [1%]), and increased aspartate aminotransferase concentration (16 [14%] vs one [1%] in the chemotherapy group). Six (5%) of 115 patients in the ceritinib group discontinued because of adverse events compared with eight (7%) of 116 in the chemotherapy group. 15 (13%) of 115 patients in the ceritinib group and five (4%) of 113 in the chemotherapy group died during the treatment period (from the day of the first dose of study treatment to 30 days after the final dose). 13 (87%) of the 15 patients who died in the ceritinib group died because of disease progression and two (13%) died because of an adverse event (one [7%] cerebrovascular accident and one [7%] respiratory failure); neither of these deaths were considered by the investigator to be treatment related. The five (4%) deaths in the chemotherapy group were all due to disease progression. Interpretation These findings show that patients derive significant clinical benefit from a more potent ALK inhibitor after failure of crizotinib, and establish ceritinib as a more efficacious treatment option compared with chemotherapy in this patient population. Funding Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation.
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