Cancer immunotherapy does not increase the risk of death by COVID-19 in melanoma patients


Background: Covid-19 pandemic by the new coronavirus SARS-Cov-2 has produced devastating effects on the health care system, affecting also cancer patient care. Data about COVID-19 infection in cancer patients are scarce, and they point out a higher risk of complications due to the viral infection in this population. Moreover, cancer treatments could increase viral complications, specially those treatments based on the use of immunotherapy with checkpoints antibodies. There are no clinical data about the safety of immune check point antibodies in cancer patients when they become infected by SARS-CoV-2. As checkpoint inhibitors, mainly anti PD-1 and anti CTLA-4 antibodies, are an effective treatment for most melanoma patients, avoiding their use during the pandemic could lead to a decrease in the chances of curing melanoma. Methods: In Spain we have started a national registry of melanoma patients infected by SARS-Cov-2 since April 1st, 2020. A retrospective analysis of patients included in the Spanish registery has been performed weekly since the activation of the study. Interim analysis shows unexpected findings about cancer treatment safety in SARS-Cov-2 infected melanoma patients, so a rapid communication to the scientific community is mandatory Results: Fifty patients have been included as of May 17th, 2020. Median age is 69 years (range 6 to 94 years), 27 (54%) patients are males and 36 (70%) patients have stage IV melanoma. Twenty-two (44%) patients were on active anticancer treatment with anti PD-1 antibodies, 16 (32%) patients were on treatment with BRAF plus MEK inhibitors and 12 (24%) patients were not on active cancer treatment. COVID-19 episode has been resolved in 43 cases, including 30 (70%) patients cured, four (9%) patients that have died due to melanoma progression, and nine (21%) patients that have died from COVID-19. Mortality rates from COVID-19 according to melanoma treatment type were 16%, 15% and 36% for patients on immunotherapy, targeted drugs, and for those that were not undergoing active cancer treatment, respectively. Conclusion: These preliminary findings show that the risk of death in those patients undergoing treatment with anti PD-1 antibodies does not exceed the global risk of death in this population. These results could be relevant in order to select melanoma therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic