Background: Neoadjuvant anti-PD-1 may improve outcomes for patients with resectable NSCLC and provides a critical window for examining pathologic features associated with response. Resections showing major pathologic response to neoadjuvant therapy, defined as ≤10% residual viable tumor (RVT), may predict improved long-term patient outcome. However, %RVT calculations were developed in the context of chemotherapy (%cRVT). An immune-related %RVT (%irRVT) has yet to be developed.
Patients and methods: The first trial of neoadjuvant anti-PD-1 (nivolumab, NCT02259621) was just reported. We analyzed hematoxylin and eosin-stained slides from the post-treatment resection specimens of the 20 patients with non-small-cell lung carcinoma who underwent definitive surgery. Pretreatment tumor biopsies and preresection radiographic 'tumor' measurements were also assessed.
Results: We found that the regression bed (the area of immune-mediated tumor clearance) accounts for the previously noted discrepancy between CT imaging and pathologic assessment of residual tumor. The regression bed is characterized by (i) immune activation-dense tumor infiltrating lymphocytes with macrophages and tertiary lymphoid structures; (ii) massive tumor cell death-cholesterol clefts; and (iii) tissue repair-neovascularization and proliferative fibrosis (each feature enriched in major pathologic responders versus nonresponders, P < 0.05). This distinct constellation of histologic findings was not identified in any pretreatment specimens. Histopathologic features of the regression bed were used to develop 'Immune-Related Pathologic Response Criteria' (irPRC), and these criteria were shown to be reproducible amongst pathologists. Specifically, %irRVT had improved interobserver consistency compared with %cRVT [median per-case %RVT variability 5% (0%-29%) versus 10% (0%-58%), P = 0.007] and a twofold decrease in median standard deviation across pathologists within a sample (4.6 versus 2.2, P = 0.002).
Conclusions: irPRC may be used to standardize pathologic assessment of immunotherapeutic efficacy. Long-term follow-up is needed to determine irPRC reliability as a surrogate for recurrence-free and overall survival.