Response to immune checkpoint inhibitors has been associated with immune activation and mutational load within a tumor. Previous results in other tumors have implicated MHC II protein tumor cell expression as a response predictor to immune checkpoint inhibitors. In the I-SPY 2 TRIAL, the anti-PD1 therapeutic antibody pembrolizumab (P) was available to HER2-negative subtypes and graduated in both the HR+/HER2- and TNBC signatures. Pre-specified biomarker analysis was performed to test tumor MHC II expression as a predictor of response to P in the I-SPY 2 TRIAL based on its central role in tumor antigen presentation.
156 patients (P: 67, controls: 89) had RPPA and pCR data. RPPA-based quantitative data for pan-MHC II protein isotypes HLA-DR/DP/DQ/DX and HLA-DR protein isotype was obtained from LCM-enriched tumor epithelium, and protein levels were assessed for association with pCR in the P and control arms separately using the Wilcoxon Rank Sum test (p < 0.05). Analysis was also performed in the HR+ and HR- subgroups. Markers were analyzed individually; p-values are descriptive and were not corrected for multiple comparisons.
Across all P- treated patients, the HLA class II molecules –DR and -DR/DP/DQ/DX had a positive association with response to P (p = 0.014 and p = 0.001). Expression of HLA-DR/DP/DQ/DX also had a positive association with response to P in HR+ tumors. Neither of these associations were seen in the control arm samples.
The observation of elevation of MHC II protein expression in HER2- responding patients treated with P suggests that activation of antigen peptide exchange facilitated by these molecules in T and B cells may enhance response to P treatment.