EBioMedicine 2020 November 6 [Link]

Joanne M Mankor, Maria J Disselhorst, Myrthe Poncin, Paul Baas, Joachim G J V Aerts, Heleen Vroman


Background: Combined immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) treatment targeting PD-1 and CTLA-4 was suggested to yield clinical benefit over chemotherapy in malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM), whereas aPD-1 monotherapy failed to provide benefit in phase-III trials. Success of ICI depends on the presence and activation of tumor-specific T cells. Therefore, we investigated whether T-cell characteristics are underlying clinical efficacy of ICI treatment in MPM.

Methods: Comprehensive immune cell profiling was performed on screening and on treatment peripheral blood samples of mesothelioma patients treated with nivolumab (aPD-1) monotherapy (NCT02497508), or a combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab (aCTLA-4) (NCT03048474).

Findings: aPD-1/aCTLA-4 combination treatment induced a profound increase in proliferation and activation of T cells, which was not observed upon aPD-1 monotherapy. Moreover, patients that responded to combination treatment had low frequencies of naive CD8 T cells and high frequencies of effector memory CD8 T cells that re-expressed RA (TEMRA) at screening. The frequency of Granzyme-B and Interferon-γ producing TEMRAs was also higher in responding patients.

Interpretation: High proportions of TEMRAs and cytokine production by TEMRAs before treatment, was associated with a better clinical outcome. TEMRAs, which likely comprise tumor-specific T cells, tend to require blockage of both aPD-1 and aCTLA-4 to be reactivated. In conclusion, peripheral blood TEMRAs can play a key role in explaining and predicting clinical benefit upon aPD-1/aCTLA-4 combination treatment.

Funding: Bristol-Myers Squibb sponsored NivoMes and INITIATE clinical trials and provided study drugs. No external funding was applicable for the flow cytometric analyses of peripheral blood samples described in this manuscript.