Trough levels of ipilimumab in serum as a potential biomarker of clinical outcomes for patients with advanced melanoma after treatment with ipilimumab

J Immunother Cancer. 2021 Oct;9(10):e002663. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2021-002663.


Background: Immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) using anti-CTLA-4 and anti-PD-1/PD-L1 has revolutionized the treatment of advanced cancer. However, ICB is effective for only a small fraction of patients, and biomarkers such as expression of PD-L1 in tumor or serum levels of CXCL11 have suboptimal sensitivity and specificity. Exposure-response (E-R) relationships have been observed with other therapeutic monoclonal antibodies. There are many factors influencing E-R relationships, yet several studies have shown that trough levels of anti-PD-1/PD-L1 correlated with clinical outcomes. However, the potential utility of anti-CTLA-4 levels as a biomarker remains unknown.

Methods: Serum was obtained at trough levels at weeks 7 and 12 (after doses 2 and 4) from patients with advanced melanoma who received ipilimumab alone (3 mg/kg every 3 weeks for four treatments) via an expanded access program (NCT00495066). We have successfully established a proteomics assay to measure the concentration of ipilimumab in serum using an liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry-based nanosurface and molecular-orientation limited proteolysis (nSMOL) approach. Serum samples from 38 patients were assessed for trough levels of ipilimumab by the nSMOL assay.

Results: We found that trough levels of ipilimumab were higher in patients who developed immune-related adverse events but did not differ based on the presence or absence of disease progression. We found that patients with higher trough levels of ipilimumab had better overall survival when grouped based on ipilimumab trough levels. Trough levels of ipilimumab were inversely associated with pretreatment serum levels of CXCL11, a predictive biomarker we previously identified, and soluble CD25 (sCD25), a prognostic biomarker for advanced melanoma, as well as C reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin (IL)-6 levels at week 7.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that trough levels of ipilimumab may be a useful biomarker for the long-term survival of patients with advanced melanoma treated with ipilimumab. The association of ipilimumab trough levels with pretreatment serum levels of CXCL11 and sCD25 is suggestive of a baseline-driven E-R relationship, and the association of ipilimumab trough levels with on-treatment levels of CRP and IL-6 is suggestive of response-driven E-R relationship. Our findings highlight the potential utility of trough levels of ipilimumab as a biomarker.

Trial registration number: NCT00495066.

Keywords: CTLA-4 antigen; biomarkers; immunotherapy; melanoma; translational medical research; tumor.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Ipilimumab / pharmacology
  • Ipilimumab / therapeutic use*
  • Male
  • Melanoma / drug therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Ipilimumab

Associated data