Background: Pembrolizumab (Pembro), an anti-PD-1 immune checkpoint inhibitor, has been approved for the treatment of a variety of cancers. Pembro was recently evaluated in HER2- breast cancer patients in the neoadjuvant I-SPY 2 TRIAL and graduated in the triple negative (TN), HR+HER2-, and HER2- signatures. TN breast cancers tend to have high numbers of immune infiltrates, including T cells and tumor associated macrophages (TAMs). We utilized multiplex multispectral imaging to evaluate the presence and spatial proximity of various immune cell populations as specific predictors of response to Pembro.
Methods: Pre-treatment biopsies were available from 54 patients. FFPE sections were immunostained using Opal fluorescence reagent kits on a fully automated Ventana Discovery platform and imaged with a Vectra automated imaging system. Image analyses were performed with a variety of software packages. Immune biomarkers included CD3, CD8, FoxP3, CD68, PD-1, PD-L1, and cytokeratins. Cell densities were determined per area of tissue. Spatial analyses were performed to quantitate proximity of cell types. We used logistic regression with the likelihood ratio test to evaluate associations between pathologic complete response (pCR) with immune cell counts, ratios, and spatial proximity measurements. This analysis was also performed adjusting for HR status, and within receptor subsets, sample size permitting. Our statistics are descriptive rather than inferential and do not adjust for multiple hypothesis testing or multiplicities of other biomarkers outside this study.
Results: Densities of CD3+ T cells ranged from 193-5155 cells/mm2, with CD8+ cytotoxic T cells (Tc) ranging from 103 to 3774 cells/mm2 and FoxP3+Tregs from 0-416 cells/mm2. Densities of PD-1+ T cells and PD-1+ Tc cells ranged from 0-1341 cells/mm2 and 0-698 cells/mm2, respectively. Macrophage cell densities ranged from 84-2644 cells/mm2. PD-L1+ tumor cell densities ranged from 0-2981 cells/mm2. High PD-L1 expression (>=10% of tumor cells positive for PD-L1) was observed in 12% of the cases. Overall T cell density was positively associated with pathological complete response (pCR), as were Treg cell density and PD-1+ T cell density. The ratio of macrophages to Tc cells was negatively associated with response. Finally, the spatial distribution of CD3+ T cells in proximity to cancer cells correlated positively with pCR.
Conclusion: Cell density, immune cell ratios and spatial resolution provide insight to response and resistance. We confirmed the observation that T cell density predicts pCR, but more specifically that Treg and PD1+ T cell densities increase the chance of pCR. An increase in macrophages relative to cytotoxic T cells predicts resistance. The closer the T cells are to the tumor, the better the response. These results demonstrate the utility of characterizing the immune microenvironment, in the context of therapy with immuno-oncology agents, not only to predict response, but to gain insight and learn now to potentiate agents and combinations.