Digital Quantification of Tumor PD-L1 Predicts Outcome of PD-1-Based Immune Checkpoint Therapy in Metastatic Melanoma

Background: PD-1-based immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) is a highly effective therapy in metastatic melanoma. However, 40-60% of patients are primarily resistant, with valid predictive biomarkers currently missing. This study investigated the digitally quantified tumor PD-L1 expression for ICB therapy outcome prediction.

Patients and Methods: Tumor tissues taken prior to PD-1-based ICB for unresectable metastatic disease were collected within the prospective multicenter Tissue Registry in Melanoma (TRIM). PD-L1 expression (clone 28-8; cut-off=5%) was determined by digital and physician quantification, and correlated with therapy outcome (best overall response, BOR; progression-free survival, PFS; overall survival, OS).

Results: Tissue samples from 156 patients were analyzed (anti-PD-1, n=115; anti-CTLA-4+anti-PD-1, n=41). Patients with PD-L1-positive tumors showed an improved response compared to patients with PD-L1-negative tumors, by digital (BOR 50.5% versus 32.2%; p=0.026) and physician (BOR 54.2% versus 36.6%; p=0.032) quantification. Tumor PD-L1 positivity was associated with a prolonged PFS and OS by either digital (PFS, 9.9 versus 4.6 months, p=0.021; OS, not reached versus 13.0 months, p=0.001) or physician (PFS, 10.6 versus 5.6 months, p=0.051; OS, not reached versus 15.6 months, p=0.011) quantification. Multivariable Cox regression revealed digital (PFS, HR=0.57, p=0.007; OS, HR=0.44, p=0.001) and physician (OS, HR=0.54, p=0.016) PD-L1 quantification as independent predictors of survival upon PD-1-based ICB. The combination of both methods identified a patient subgroup with particularly favorable therapy outcome (PFS, HR=0.53, p=0.011; OS, HR=0.47, p=0.008).

Conclusion: Pre-treatment tumor PD-L1 positivity predicted a favorable outcome of PD-1-based ICB in melanoma. Herein, digital quantification was not inferior to physician quantification, and should be further validated for clinical use.


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