Background: Antibodies that block programmed death 1 (PD-1) protein improve survival in patients with advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC) but have not been tested in resectable NSCLC, a condition in which little progress has been made during the past decade.
Methods: In this pilot study, we administered two preoperative doses of PD-1 inhibitor nivolumab in adults with untreated, surgically resectable early (stage I, II, or IIIA) NSCLC. Nivolumab (at a dose of 3 mg per kilogram of body weight) was administered intravenously every 2 weeks, with surgery planned approximately 4 weeks after the first dose. The primary end points of the study were safety and feasibility. We also evaluated the tumor pathological response, expression of programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1), mutational burden, and mutation-associated, neoantigen-specific T-cell responses.
Results: Neoadjuvant nivolumab had an acceptable side-effect profile and was not associated with delays in surgery. Of the 21 tumors that were removed, 20 were completely resected. A major pathological response occurred in 9 of 20 resected tumors (45%). Responses occurred in both PD-L1-positive and PD-L1-negative tumors. There was a significant correlation between the pathological response and the pretreatment tumor mutational burden. The number of T-cell clones that were found in both the tumor and peripheral blood increased systemically after PD-1 blockade in eight of nine patients who were evaluated. Mutation-associated, neoantigen-specific T-cell clones from a primary tumor with a complete response on pathological assessment rapidly expanded in peripheral blood at 2 to 4 weeks after treatment; some of these clones were not detected before the administration of nivolumab.
Conclusions: Neoadjuvant nivolumab was associated with few side effects, did not delay surgery, and induced a major pathological response in 45% of resected tumors. The tumor mutational burden was predictive of the pathological response to PD-1 blockade. Treatment induced expansion of mutation-associated, neoantigen-specific T-cell clones in peripheral blood. (Funded by Cancer Research Institute-Stand Up 2 Cancer and others; ClinicalTrials.gov number, NCT02259621 .).