Gemcitabine-cisplatin (GP) chemotherapy is the standard first-line systemic treatment for recurrent or metastatic nasopharyngeal carcinoma (RM-NPC). In this international, double-blind, phase 3 trial (ClinicalTrials.gov identifier: NCT03581786), 289 patients with RM-NPC and no previous chemotherapy for recurrent or metastatic disease were randomized (1/1) to receive either toripalimab, a monoclonal antibody against human programmed death-1 (PD-1), or placebo in combination with GP every 3 weeks for up to six cycles, followed by monotherapy with toripalimab or placebo. The primary endpoint was progression-free survival (PFS) as assessed by a blinded independent review committee according to RECIST v.1.1. At the prespecified interim PFS analysis, a significant improvement in PFS was detected in the toripalimab arm compared to the placebo arm: median PFS of 11.7 versus 8.0 months, hazard ratio (HR) = 0.52 (95% confidence interval (CI): 0.36–0.74), P = 0.0003. An improvement in PFS was observed across key subgroups, including PD-L1 expression. As of 18 February 2021, a 40% reduction in risk of death was observed in the toripalimab arm compared to the placebo arm (HR = 0.603 (95% CI: 0.364–0.997)). The incidence of grade ≥3 adverse events (AEs) (89.0 versus 89.5%), AEs leading to discontinuation of toripalimab/placebo (7.5 versus 4.9%) and fatal AEs (2.7 versus 2.8%) was similar between the two arms; however, immune-related AEs (39.7 versus 18.9%) and grade ≥3 infusion reactions (7.5 versus 0.7%) were more frequent in the toripalimab arm. In conclusion, the addition of toripalimab to GP chemotherapy as a first-line treatment for patients with RM-NPC provided superior PFS compared to GP alone, and with a manageable safety profile.