Enhanced Efficacy of Simultaneous PD-1 and PD-L1 Immune Checkpoint Blockade in High-Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer

Cancer Res. 2021 Jan 1;81(1):158-173. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-20-1674. Epub 2020 Nov 6.


Immune therapies have had limited efficacy in high-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSC), as the cellular targets and mechanism(s) of action of these agents in HGSC are unknown. Here we performed immune functional and single-cell RNA sequencing transcriptional profiling on novel HGSC organoid/immune cell co-cultures treated with a unique bispecific anti-programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1)/programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) antibody compared with monospecific anti-PD-1 or anti-PD-L1 controls. Comparing the functions of these agents across all immune cell types in real time identified key immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) targets that have eluded currently available monospecific therapies. The bispecific antibody induced superior cellular state changes in both T and natural killer (NK) cells. It uniquely induced NK cells to transition from inert to more active and cytotoxic phenotypes, implicating NK cells as a key missing component of the current ICB-induced immune response in HGSC. It also induced a subset of CD8 T cells to transition from naïve to more active and cytotoxic progenitor-exhausted phenotypes post-treatment, revealing the small, previously uncharacterized population of CD8 T cells responding to ICB in HGSC. These state changes were driven partially through bispecific antibody-induced downregulation of the bromodomain-containing protein BRD1. Small-molecule inhibition of BRD1 induced similar state changes in vitro and demonstrated efficacy in vivo, validating the co-culture results. Our results demonstrate that state changes in both NK and a subset of T cells may be critical in inducing an effective anti-tumor immune response and suggest that immune therapies able to induce such cellular state changes, such as BRD1 inhibitors, may have increased efficacy in HGSC. SIGNIFICANCE: This study indicates that increased efficacy of immune therapies in ovarian cancer is driven by state changes of NK and small subsets of CD8 T cells into active and cytotoxic states.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • B7-H1 Antigen / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / genetics
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / immunology
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cystadenocarcinoma, Serous / drug therapy*
  • Cystadenocarcinoma, Serous / immunology
  • Cystadenocarcinoma, Serous / pathology
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology
  • Mice
  • Neoplasm Grading
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / immunology
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Survival Rate
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • CD274 protein, human
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • PDCD1 protein, human
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor