BACKGROUND: PD-1 inhibitors are routinely used for the treatment of advanced melanoma. This study sought to determine whether PD-L1 expression on circulating tumor cells (CTCs) can serve as a predictive biomarker of clinical benefit and response to treatment with the PD-1 inhibitor pembrolizumab.
METHODS: Blood samples were collected from patients with metastatic melanoma receiving pembrolizumab, prior to treatment and 6-12 weeks after initiation of therapy. Multiparametric flow cytometry was used to identify CTCs and evaluate the expression of PD-L1.
RESULTS: CTCs were detected in 25 of 40 patients (63%). Patients with detectable PD-L1+ CTCs (14/25, 64%) had significantly longer progression-free survival (PFS) compared with patients with PD-L1- CTCs (26.6 months vs. 5.5 months; p = .018). The 12-month PFS rates were 76% versus 22% in the PD-L1+ versus PD-L1- CTCs groups (p = .012), respectively. A multivariate linear regression analysis confirmed that PD-L1+ CTC is an independent predictive biomarker of PFS (hazard ratio, 0.229; 95% confidence interval, 0.052-1.012; p = .026).
CONCLUSION: Our results reveal the potential of CTCs as a noninvasive real-time biopsy to evaluate PD-L1 expression in patients with melanoma. PD-L1 expression on CTCs may be predictive of response to pembrolizumab and longer PFS.
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE: The present data suggest that PD-L1 expression on circulating tumor cells may predict response to pembrolizumab in advanced melanoma. This needs further validation in a larger trial and, if proven, might be a useful liquid biopsy tool that could be used to stratify patients into groups more likely to respond to immunotherapy, hence leading to health cost savings.
|Early online date||5 Dec 2019|
|Publication status||Published - 1 Mar 2020|