Purpose: Expression of programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) is a potential predictive marker for response and outcome after treatment with anti-programmed death 1 (PD-1). This study explored the relationship between anti-PD-1 activity and PD-L1 expression in patients with advanced melanoma who were treated with pembrolizumab in the phase Ib KEYNOTE-001 study (clinical trial information: NCT01295827).
Patients and Methods: Six hundred fifty-five patients received pembrolizumab10 mg/kg once every 2 weeks or once every 3 weeks, or 2 mg/kg once every 3 weeks. Tumor response was assessed every 12 weeks per Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors (RECIST) v1.1 by independent central review. Primary outcome was objective response rate. Secondary outcomes included progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS). Membranous PD-L1 expression in tumor and tumor-associated immune cells was assessed by a clinical trial immunohistochemistry assay (22C3 antibody) and scored on a unique melanoma (MEL) scale of 0 to 5 by one of three pathologists who were blinded to clinical outcome; a score ≥ 2 (membranous staining in ≥ 1% of cells) was considered positive.
Results: Of 451 patients with evaluable PD-L1 expression, 344 (76%) had PD-L1-positive tumors. Demographic and staging variables were equally distributed among PD-L1-positive and -negative patients. An association between higher MEL score and higher response rate and longer PFS (hazard ratio, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.71 to 0.82) and OS (hazard ratio, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.69 to 0.83) was observed (P < .001 for each). Objective response rate was 8%, 12%, 22%, 43%, 57%, and 53% for MEL 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, respectively.
Conclusion: PD-L1 expression in pretreatment tumor biopsy samples was correlated with response rate, PFS, and OS; however, patients with PD-L1-negative tumors may also achieve durable responses.