T cell receptor repertoire features associated with survival in immunotherapy-treated pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma

JCI Insight. 2018 Jul 12;3(13):e122092. doi: 10.1172/jci.insight.122092.


Background: Immune checkpoint inhibitors provide significant clinical benefit to a subset of patients, but novel prognostic markers are needed to predict which patients will respond. This study was initiated to determine if features of patient T cell repertoires could provide insights into the mechanisms of immunotherapy, while also predicting outcomes.

Methods: We examined T cell receptor (TCR) repertoires in peripheral blood of 25 metastatic pancreatic cancer patients treated with ipilimumab with or without GVAX (a pancreatic cancer vaccine), as well as peripheral blood and tumor biopsies from 32 patients treated with GVAX and mesothelin-expressing Listeria monocytogenes with or without nivolumab. Statistics from these repertoires were then tested for their association with clinical response and treatment group.

Results: We demonstrate that, first, the majority of patients receiving these treatments experience a net diversification of their peripheral TCR repertoires. Second, patients receiving ipilimumab experienced larger changes in their repertoires, especially in combination with GVAX. Finally, both a low baseline clonality and a high number of expanded clones following treatment were associated with significantly longer survival in patients who received ipilimumab but not in patients receiving nivolumab.

Conclusions: We show that these therapies have measurably different effects on the peripheral repertoire, consistent with their mechanisms of action, and demonstrate the potential for TCR repertoire profiling to serve as a biomarker of clinical response in pancreatic cancer patients receiving immunotherapy. In addition, our results suggest testing sequential administration of anti-CTLA-4 and anti-PD-1 antibodies to achieve optimal therapeutic benefit.

Trial registration: Samples used in this study were collected from the NCT00836407 and NCT02243371 clinical trials.

Funding: Research supported by a Stand Up To Cancer Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Cancer Convergence Dream Team Translational Research grant (SU2C-AACR-DT14-14). Stand Up To Cancer is a program of the Entertainment Industry Foundation administered by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR). Additional clinical trial funding was provided by AACR-Pancreatic Cancer Action Network Research Acceleration Network grant (14-90-25-LE), NCI SPORE in GI Cancer (CA062924), Quick-Trials for Novel Cancer Therapies: Exploratory Grants (R21CA126058-01A2), and the US Food and Drug Administration (R01FD004819). Research collaboration and financial support were provided by Adaptive Biotechnologies.

Keywords: Cancer immunotherapy; Immunology; Oncology; T-cell receptor.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / blood
  • CTLA-4 Antigen / immunology
  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / immunology*
  • Carcinoma, Pancreatic Ductal / therapy
  • GPI-Linked Proteins / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Ipilimumab / therapeutic use
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Mesothelin
  • Nivolumab / therapeutic use
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / immunology*
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / therapy
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / immunology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / immunology*
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • CTLA-4 Antigen
  • CTLA4 protein, human
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • GPI-Linked Proteins
  • GVAX vaccine
  • Ipilimumab
  • PDCD1 protein, human
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Nivolumab
  • Mesothelin

Supplementary concepts

  • Pancreatic Carcinoma

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT00836407
  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02243371