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Expression of TIM3/VISTA checkpoints and the CD68 macrophage-associated marker correlates with anti-PD1/PDL1 resistance: implications of immunogram heterogeneity


Although immunotherapies have achieved remarkable salutary effects among subgroups of advanced cancers, most patients do not respond. We comprehensively evaluated biomarkers associated with the "cancer-immunity cycle" in the pan-cancer setting in order to understand the immune landscape of metastatic malignancies as well as anti-PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitor resistance mechanisms. Interrogation of 51 markers of the cancer-immunity cycle was performed in 101 patients with diverse malignancies using a clinical-grade RNA sequencing assay. Overall, the immune phenotypes demonstrated overexpression of multiple checkpoints including VISTA (15.8% of 101 patients), PD-L2 (10.9%), TIM3 (9.9%), LAG3 (8.9%), PD-L1 (6.9%) and CTLA4 (3.0%). Additionally, aberrant expression of macrophage-associated markers (e.g. CD68 and CSF1R; 11-23%), metabolic immune escape markers (e.g. ADORA2A and IDO1; 9-16%) and T-cell priming markers (e.g. CD40, GITR, ICOS and OX40; 4-31%) were observed. Most tumors (87.1%, 88/101) expressed distinct immune portfolios, with a median of six theoretically actionable biomarkers (pharmacologically tractable by Food and Drug Administration approved agents [on- or off-label] or with agents in clinical development). Overexpression of TIM-3, VISTA and CD68 were significantly associated with shorter progression-free survival (PFS) after anti-PD-1/PD-L1-based therapies (among 39 treated patients) (all P < .01). In conclusion, cancer-immunity cycle biomarker evaluation was feasible in diverse solid tumors. High expression of alternative checkpoints TIM-3 and VISTA and of the macrophage-associated markers CD68 were associated with significantly worse PFS after anti-PD-1/PD-L1-based therapies. Most patients had distinct and complex immune expression profiles suggesting the need for customized combinations of immunotherapy.

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