Early changes in the circulating T cells are associated with clinical outcomes after PD-L1 blockade by durvalumab in advanced NSCLC patients

Cancer Immunol Immunother. 2021 Jul;70(7):2095-2102. doi: 10.1007/s00262-020-02833-z. Epub 2021 Jan 9.


Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) are designed to activate exhausted tumor-reactive T cells thereby leading to tumor regression. Durvalumab, an ICI that binds to the programmed death ligand-1 (PD-L1) molecule, is approved as a consolidation therapy for treatment of patients with stage III, unresectable, non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Immunophenotypic analysis of circulating immune cells revealed increases in circulating proliferating CD4 + and CD8 + T cells earlier after durvalumab treatment. To examine durvalumab's mechanism of action and identify potential predictive biomarkers, we assessed the circulating T cells phenotypes and TCR genes of 71 NSCLC patients receiving durvalumab enrolled in a Phase I trial (NCT01693562, September 14, 2012). Next-generation sequencing of TCR repertoire was performed on these NSCLC patients' peripheral blood samples at baseline and day 15. Though patients' TCR repertoire diversity showed mixed responses to the treatment, patients exhibiting increased diversity on day 15 attained significantly longer overall survival (OS) (median OS was not reached vs 17.2 months for those with decreased diversity, p = 0.015). We applied network analysis to assess convergent T cell clonotypes indicative of an antigen-driven immune response. Patients with larger TCR clusters had improved OS (median OS was not reached vs 13.1 months for patients with smaller TCR clusters, p = 0.013). Early TCR repertoire diversification after durvalumab therapy for NSCLC may be predictive of increased survival and provides a mechanistic basis for durvalumab pharmacodynamic activity.

Keywords: Circulating T cells; Diversity; NSCLC; Network analysis; PD-L1; TCR.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / therapeutic use*
  • B7-H1 Antigen / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / drug therapy
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / mortality*
  • Carcinoma, Non-Small-Cell Lung / pathology
  • Clinical Trials, Phase I as Topic
  • Clinical Trials, Phase II as Topic
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / immunology
  • Lung Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / immunology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism
  • Survival Rate
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • CD274 protein, human
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • durvalumab