Recently, immunotherapy has been shown to be an effective and helpful therapeutic option for the treatment of advanced non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). The activity of antitumor T cells may be restored through the checkpoint blockade using anti-programmed death 1 or anti-programmed death ligand 1 (PD-L1) antibodies, showing, in several cancer patients, an increased progression-free survival and overall survival compared with classical chemotherapy. As recently shown by several studies, the PD-L1 expression levels in tumors may offer a selection criterion for patients to predict their immunotherapy response. In particular, NSCLC patients with high tumor PD-L1 levels (proportional score ≥ 50% for first-line therapy and ≥ 1% for second-line treatment, respectively) showed better response rates to immunotherapy and longer survival in first-line therapy compared with conventional chemotherapy. PD-L1, whose expression is evaluated by using immunohistochemistry analysis, is currently the only biomarker approved for clinical use in the first- and second-line monotherapy setting and therefore plays a central role in treatment decision-making for patients with advanced NSCLC. In this review we will discuss the key role of PD-L1 as a predictive biomarker of response to pembrolizumab therapy in NSCLC patients by describing the appropriate techniques and methodologies for immunohistochemical evaluation of PD-L1 expression and providing an overview of the clinical studies supporting its predictive significance.
Keywords: Checkpoint inhibitors; Lung cancer; NSCLC; PD-1; PD-L1; Pembrolizumab; Predictive biomarker.