Clinical and Molecular Heterogeneity in Patients with Innate Resistance to Anti-PD-1 +/- Anti-CTLA-4 Immunotherapy in Metastatic Melanoma Reveals Distinct Therapeutic Targets.
While immune checkpoint inhibitors targeting the CTLA-4 and PD-1 receptors have significantly improved outcomes of many patients with metastatic melanoma, there remains a group of patients who demonstrate no benefit. In this study, we sought to characterise patients who do not respond to anti-PD-1-based therapies based on their clinical, genetic and immune profiles. Forty patients with metastatic melanoma who did not respond to anti-PD-1 +/− anti-CTLA-4 treatment were identified. Targeted RNA sequencing (n = 37) was performed on pretreatment formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) melanoma specimens. Patients clustered into two groups based on the expression profiles of 26 differentially expressed genes: an immune gene rich group (n = 17) expressing genes associated with immune and T cell signalling, and a second group (n = 20) expressing genes associated with metabolism, signal transduction and neuronal signalling. Multiplex immunohistochemistry validated significantly higher densities of tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) and macrophages in the immune gene-rich group. This TIL-high subset of patients also demonstrated higher expression of alternative immune-regulatory drug targets compared to the TIL-low group. Patients were also subdivided into rapid progressors and other progressors (cut-off 2 mo progression-free survival), with significantly lower TILs (p = 0.04) and CD68+ macrophages (p = 0.0091) in the rapid progressors. Furthermore, a trend towards a higher tumour burden was observed in rapid progressors (p = 0.06). These data highlight the need for a personalised and multilayer (clinical and molecular) approach for identifying the most appropriate treatments for anti-PD-1 resistant patients and provides insight into how individual treatment strategies can be achieved.