Purpose: The Programmed Death-1 (PD-1) immune checkpoint pathway may be usurped by tumors, including diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), to evade immune surveillance. The reconstituting immune landscape after autologous hematopoietic stem-cell transplantation (AHSCT) may be particularly favorable for breaking immune tolerance through PD-1 blockade.
Patients and methods: We conducted an international phase II study of pidilizumab, an anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibody, in patients with DLBCL undergoing AHSCT, with correlative studies of lymphocyte subsets. Patients received three doses of pidilizumab beginning 1 to 3 months after AHSCT.
Results: Sixty-six eligible patients were treated. Toxicity was mild. At 16 months after the first treatment, progression-free survival (PFS) was 0.72 (90% CI, 0.60 to 0.82), meeting the primary end point. Among the 24 high-risk patients who remained positive on positron emission tomography after salvage chemotherapy, the 16-month PFS was 0.70 (90% CI, 0.51 to 0.82). Among the 35 patients with measurable disease after AHSCT, the overall response rate after pidilizumab treatment was 51%. Treatment was associated with increases in circulating lymphocyte subsets including PD-L1E-bearing lymphocytes, suggesting an on-target in vivo effect of pidilizumab.
Conclusion: This is the first demonstration of clinical activity of PD-1 blockade in DLBCL. Given these results, PD-1 blockade after AHSCT using pidilizumab may represent a promising therapeutic strategy in this disease.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00532259.