Clinical trials of immunotherapy in triple-negative breast cancer

Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2022 Aug;195(1):1-15. doi: 10.1007/s10549-022-06665-6. Epub 2022 Jul 14.


Purpose: Immunotherapy has started to transform the treatment of triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), in part due to the unique immunogenicity of this breast cancer subtype. This review summarizes clinical studies of immunotherapy in advanced and early-stage TNBC.

Findings: Initial studies of checkpoint blockade monotherapy demonstrated occasional responses, especially in patients with untreated programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) positive advanced TNBC, but failed to confirm a survival advantage over chemotherapy. Nonetheless, pembrolizumab monotherapy has tumor agnostic approval for microsatellite instability-high or high tumor mutational burden cancers, and thus can be considered for select patients with advanced TNBC. Combination chemoimmunotherapy approaches have been more successful, and pembrolizumab is approved for PD-L1 positive advanced TNBC in combination with chemotherapy. This success has been translated to the curative setting, where pembrolizumab is now approved in combination with neoadjuvant chemotherapy for high-risk early-stage TNBC.

Conclusion: Immunotherapy has been a welcome addition to the growing armamentarium for TNBC, but responses remain limited to a subset of patients. Innovative strategies are under investigation in an attempt to induce immune responses in resistant tumors-with regimens incorporating small-molecule inhibitors, novel immune checkpoint targets, and intratumoral injections that directly alter the tumor microenvironment. As the focus shifts toward the use of immunotherapy for early-stage TNBC, it will be critical to identify those who derive the most benefit from treatment, given the potential for irreversible autoimmune toxicity and the lack of predictive accuracy of PD-L1 expression in the early-stage setting.

Keywords: Atezolizumab; Checkpoint blockade; Clinical Trials; Immunotherapy; Pembrolizumab; Triple-negative breast cancer.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents* / therapeutic use
  • B7-H1 Antigen / metabolism
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Triple Negative Breast Neoplasms* / metabolism
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • B7-H1 Antigen