Moutafi, M. K.; Molero, M.; Martínez-Morilla, S.; Baena, J.; Vathiotis, I. A.; Gavrielatou, N.; Castro-Labrador, L.; Ruiz-de Garibay, G.; Adradas, V.; Orive Mauleón, Daniel
; Valencia Leoz, Karmele
; Calvo González, Alfonso
; Montuenga Badía, Luis
; Ponce-Aix, S.; Schalper, K. A.; Herbst, R. S.; Paz-Ares, L.; Rimm, D. L.; Zugazagoitia, J. (Autor de correspondencia)
Background Most patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) fail to derive significant benefit from programmed cell death protein-1 (PD-1) axis blockade, and new biomarkers of response are needed. In this study, we aimed to discover and validate spatially resolved protein markers associated with sensitivity to PD-1 axis inhibition in NSCLC. Methods We initially assessed a discovery cohort of 56 patients with NSCLC treated with PD-1 axis inhibitors at Yale Cancer Center. Using the GeoMx Digital Spatial Profiling (DSP) system, 71 proteins were measured in spatial context on each spot in a tissue microarray. We used the AQUA method of quantitative immunofluorescence (QIF) to orthogonally validate candidate biomarkers. For external independent validation, we assessed whole tissue sections derived from 128 patients with NSCLC treated with single-agent PD-1 axis inhibitors at the 12 de Octubre Hospital (Madrid) using DSP. We further analyzed two immunotherapy untreated cohorts to address prognostic significance (n=252 from Yale Cancer Center; n=124 from University Clinic of Navarra) using QIF and DSP, respectively. Results Using continuous log-scaled data, we identified CD44 expression in the tumor compartment (pan-cytokeratin (CK)+) as a novel predictor of prolonged progression-free survival (PFS) (multivariate HR=0.68, p=0.043) in the discovery set. We validated by QIF that tumor CD44 levels assessed as continuous QIF scores were associated with longer PFS (multivariate HR=0.31, p=0.022) and overall survival (multivariate HR=0.29, p=0.038). Using DSP in an independent immunotherapy treated cohort, we validated that CD44 levels in the tumor compartment, but not in the immune compartment (panCK-/CD45+), were associated with clinical benefit (OR=1.22, p=0.018) and extended PFS under PD-1 axis inhibition using the highest tertile cutpoint (multivariate HR=0.62, p=0.03). The effect of tumor cell CD44 in predicting PFS remained significant after correcting for programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) Tumor Proportion Score (TPS) in both cohorts. High tumor cell CD44 was not prognostic in the absence of immunotherapy. Using DSP data, intratumoral regions with elevated tumor cell CD44 expression showed prominent (fold change>1.5, adjusted p<0.05) upregulation of PD-L1, TIM-3, ICOS, and CD40 in two independent cohorts. Conclusions This work highlights CD44 as a novel indicative biomarker of sensitivity to PD-1 axis blockade that might help to improve immunotherapy strategies for NSCLC.