Certain Immune Cells Play Crucial Role in Immunotherapy Response, Study Suggests

Findings may explain why some patients with cancer respond to immunotherapy while others do not.

A patient’s immune system profile may influence the efficacy of immunotherapy in the treatment of cancer, according to a study.

The study was an extension of the complete CheckMate 141 phase 3 clinical trial, which showed that the immunotherapy nivolumab (Opdivo) significantly increased survival and had fewer adverse events in patients with recurrent head and neck cancer.

Because the immunotherapy was not equally effective in all the patients, the investigators sought to determine whether differences in patients’ immune system profiles could be associated with better response to immunotherapy.

The results of the study, presented at the American Association of Cancer Research annual meeting in Washington, DC, found that higher levels of tumor-associated immune cells (TAICs) expressing the PD-L1 protein were associated with longer overall survival and an increased likelihood of responding to treatment with nivolumab.

In blood samples obtained prior to the start of immunotherapy, the investigators found that patients with higher levels of circulating CD8 T cells and lower levels of regulatory T cells, were associated with a better response to treatment.

“Our study shows that immune cells in the microenvironment around the tumor could play a critical role in how patients respond to immunotherapy,” said author Robert Ferris, MD, PhD. “By determining the nature of these cells and how they are affected by treatments, we may be able to significantly improve the effectiveness of current therapies and help a greater number of patients.”