Background: Ipilimumab improves overall survival in a subset of patients with metastatic melanoma. Peripheral blood T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire diversity has been associated with favorable outcomes in patients with cancer, but its relevance as a biomarker for ipilimumab outcomes remains unknown.
Findings: In this pilot study, we analyzed the pre-treatment peripheral blood TCR repertoire in 12 patients with metastatic melanoma who received ipilimumab at 3 mg/kg (clinical benefit, n = 4; no clinical benefit, n = 8). TCR diversity was evaluated using a polymerase chain reaction assay which measures TCR combinatorial diversity between V and J genes from genomic DNA. TCR repertoire diversity was studied through richness (observed V-J rearrangements) and evenness (similarity between the frequencies of specific V-J rearrangements). The Wilcoxon rank sum test was used to compare patients with clinical benefit and those without. Association with benefit in a dichotomized analysis was assessed through a Fisher's exact test. Overall survival was studied through log-rank analysis. There was a significant difference in richness (p = 0.033) and evenness (p = 0.028) between patients with and without clinical benefit. Dichotomized analysis showed that none of the patients with low richness (n = 0/5, p = 0.081) nor low evenness (n = 0/7, p = 0.01) achieved clinical benefit. There were no significant differences in overall survival.
Conclusions: In this small group of patients, baseline TCR diversity in the peripheral blood was associated with clinical outcomes. Further investigation is ongoing in larger cohorts of patients to explore these preliminary findings and determine whether TCR diversity can be used as a predictive biomarker in cancer immunotherapy.