Biomarkers for Clinical Benefit of Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor Treatment-A Review From the Melanoma Perspective and Beyond

Kristina Buder-Bakhaya, Jessica C Hassel
Frontiers in Immunology 2018, 9: 1474

Background: Immune checkpoint inhibition (ICI) with anti-CTLA-4 and/or anti-PD-1 antibodies is standard treatment for metastatic melanoma. Anti-PD-1 (pembrolizumab, nivolumab) and anti-PD-L1 antibodies (atezolizumab, durvalumab, and avelumab) have been approved for treatment of several other advanced malignancies, including non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC); renal cell, and urothelial carcinoma; head and neck cancer; gastric, hepatocellular, and Merkel-cell carcinoma; and classical Hodgkin lymphoma. In some of these malignancies approval was based on the detection of biomarkers such as PD-L1 expression or high microsatellite instability.

Methods: We review the current status of prognostic and predictive biomarkers used in ICI for melanoma and other malignancies. We include clinical, tissue, blood, and stool biomarkers, as well as imaging biomarkers.

Results: Several biomarkers have been studied in ICI for metastatic melanoma. In clinical practice, pre-treatment tumor burden measured by means of imaging and serum lactate dehydrogenase level is already being used to estimate the likelihood of effective ICI treatment. In peripheral blood, the number of different immune cell types, such as lymphocytes, neutrophils, and eosinophils, as well as different soluble factors, have been correlated with clinical outcome. For intra-tumoral biomarkers, expression of the PD-1 ligand PD-L1 has been found to be of some predictive value for anti-PD-1-directed therapy for NSCLC and melanoma. A high mutational load, particularly when accompanied by neoantigens, seems to facilitate immune response and correlates with patient survival for all entities treated by use of ICI. Tumor microenvironment also seems to be of major importance. Interestingly, even the gut microbiome has been found to correlate with response to ICI, most likely through immuno-stimulatory effects of distinct bacteria. New imaging biomarkers, e.g., for PET, and magnetic resonance imaging are also being investigated, and results suggest they will make early prediction of patient response possible.

Conclusion: Several promising results are available regarding possible biomarkers for response to ICI, which need to be validated in large clinical trials. A better understanding of how ICI works will enable the development of biomarkers that can predict the response of individual patients.

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