Prediction of Immunotherapy Response in Melanoma through Combined Modeling of Neoantigen Burden and Immune-Related Resistance Mechanisms

Clin Cancer Res. 2021 Aug 1;27(15):4265-4276. doi: 10.1158/1078-0432.CCR-20-4314.


Purpose: While immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) has become a pillar of cancer treatment, biomarkers that consistently predict patient response remain elusive due to the complex mechanisms driving immune response to tumors. We hypothesized that a multi-dimensional approach modeling both tumor and immune-related molecular mechanisms would better predict ICB response than simpler mutation-focused biomarkers, such as tumor mutational burden (TMB).

Experimental design: Tumors from a cohort of patients with late-stage melanoma (n = 51) were profiled using an immune-enhanced exome and transcriptome platform. We demonstrate increasing predictive power with deeper modeling of neoantigens and immune-related resistance mechanisms to ICB.

Results: Our neoantigen burden score, which integrates both exome and transcriptome features, more significantly stratified responders and nonresponders (P = 0.016) than TMB alone (P = 0.049). Extension of this model to include immune-related resistance mechanisms affecting the antigen presentation machinery, such as HLA allele-specific LOH, resulted in a composite neoantigen presentation score (NEOPS) that demonstrated further increased association with therapy response (P = 0.002).

Conclusions: NEOPS proved the statistically strongest biomarker compared with all single-gene biomarkers, expression signatures, and TMB biomarkers evaluated in this cohort. Subsequent confirmation of these findings in an independent cohort of patients (n = 110) suggests that NEOPS is a robust, novel biomarker of ICB response in melanoma.