Adenosine mediates immunosuppression within the tumor microenvironment through triggering adenosine 2A receptors (A2AR) on immune cells. To determine whether this pathway could be targeted as an immunotherapy, we performed a phase I clinical trial with a small-molecule A2AR antagonist. We find that this molecule can safely block adenosine signaling in vivo. In a cohort of 68 patients with renal cell cancer (RCC), we also observe clinical responses alone and in combination with an anti-PD-L1 antibody, including subjects who had progressed on PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors. Durable clinical benefit is associated with increased recruitment of CD8+ T cells into the tumor. Treatment can also broaden the circulating T-cell repertoire. Clinical responses are associated with an adenosine-regulated gene-expression signature in pretreatment tumor biopsies. A2AR signaling, therefore, represents a targetable immune checkpoint distinct from PD-1/PD-L1 that restricts antitumor immunity. SIGNIFICANCE: This first-in-human study of an A2AR antagonist for cancer treatment establishes the safety and feasibility of targeting this pathway by demonstrating antitumor activity with single-agent and anti-PD-L1 combination therapy in patients with refractory RCC. Responding patients possess an adenosine-regulated gene-expression signature in pretreatment tumor biopsies.See related commentary by Sitkovsky, p. 16.This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 1.
©2019 American Association for Cancer Research.