Improving Immunotherapy Efficacy in Soft-Tissue Sarcomas: A Biomarker Driven and Histotype Tailored Review

Front Immunol. 2021 Dec 3:12:775761. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2021.775761. eCollection 2021.


Anti-PD-(L)1 therapies yield a disappointing response rate of 15% across soft-tissue sarcomas, even if some subtypes benefit more than others. The proportions of TAMs and TILs in their tumor microenvironment are variable, and this heterogeneity correlates to histotype. Tumors with a richer CD8+ T cell, M1 macrophage, and CD20+ cells infiltrate have a better prognosis than those infiltrated by M0/M2 macrophages and a high immune checkpoint protein expression. PD-L1 and CD8+ infiltrate seem correlated to response to immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI), but tertiary lymphoid structures have the best predictive value and have been validated prospectively. Trials for combination therapies are ongoing and focus on the association of ICI with chemotherapy, achieving encouraging results especially with pembrolizumab and doxorubicin at an early stage, or ICI with antiangiogenics. A synergy with oncolytic viruses is seen and intratumoral talimogene laherpavec yields an impressive 35% ORR when associated to pembrolizumab. Adoptive cellular therapies are also of great interest in tumors with a high expression of cancer-testis antigens (CTA), such as synovial sarcomas or myxoid round cell liposarcomas with an ORR ranging from 20 to 50%. It seems crucial to adapt the design of clinical trials to histology. Leiomyosarcomas are characterized by complex genomics but are poorly infiltrated by immune cells and do not benefit from ICI. They should be tested with PIK3CA/AKT inhibition, IDO blockade, or treatments aiming at increasing antigenicity (radiotherapy, PARP inhibitors). DDLPS are more infiltrated and have higher PD-L1 expression, but responses to ICI remain variable across clinical studies. Combinations with MDM2 antagonists or CDK4/6 inhibitors may improve responses for DDLPS. UPS harbor the highest copy number alterations (CNA) and mutation rates, with a rich immune infiltrate containing TLS. They have a promising 15-40% ORR to ICI. Trials for ICB should focus on immune-high UPS. Association of ICI with FGFR inhibitors warrants further exploration in the immune-low group of UPS. Finally translocation-related sarcomas are heterogeneous, and although synovial sarcomas a poorly infiltrated and have a poor response rate to ICI, ASPS largely benefit from ICB monotherapy or its association with antiangiogenics agents. Targeting specific neoantigens through vaccine or adoptive cellular therapies is probably the most promising approach in synovial sarcomas.

Keywords: PD1 and PDL1; combination (combined) therapy; immunotherapy; soft tissue sarcoma (STS); tertiary lymphoid structure (TLS).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / therapeutic use*
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Combined Modality Therapy / adverse effects
  • Combined Modality Therapy / methods
  • Disease Management
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Proteins / genetics
  • Immune Checkpoint Proteins / metabolism
  • Immunotherapy / adverse effects
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / drug effects
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / immunology
  • Lymphocytes, Tumor-Infiltrating / metabolism
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / adverse effects
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy / methods
  • Prognosis
  • Sarcoma / diagnosis
  • Sarcoma / etiology
  • Sarcoma / mortality
  • Sarcoma / therapy*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects
  • Tumor Microenvironment / genetics
  • Tumor Microenvironment / immunology


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Immune Checkpoint Proteins