Comparison of the Tumor Immune Microenvironment and Checkpoint Blockade Biomarkers Between Stage III and IV Non-small Cell Lung Cancer

Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy, Tempus-authored
Authors Yinjie Gao, Michelle M. Stein, Matthew Kase, Amy L. Cummings, Ramit Bharanikumar, Denise Lau, Edward B. Garon, and Sandip P. Patel

Adjuvant immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) following chemoradiotherapy and adding ICB to chemotherapy have been key advances for stages III-IV non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) treatment. However, known biomarkers like PD-L1 are not consistently indicative of ICB response. Other markers within the tumor immune microenvironment (TIME) may better reflect ICB response and/or resistance mechanisms, but an understanding of how TIMEs differ between stage III and IV NSCLC has not been explored.

Real-world data from unresectable, stage III-IV, non-squamous, pretreatment NSCLCs (stage III n = 106, stage IV n = 285) were retrospectively analyzed. PD-L1 immunohistochemistry (IHC) was compared to CD274 gene expression. Then, differential gene expression levels, pathway enrichment, and immune infiltrate between stages were calculated from whole-transcriptome RNA-seq. Analyses were stratified by EGFR status.

PD-L1 IHC and CD274 expression in tumor cells were highly correlated (n = 295, P < 2.2e-16, ⍴ = 0.74). CTLA4 expression was significantly increased in stage III tumors (P = 1.32e-04), while no differences were observed for other ICB-related genes. Metabolic pathway activity was significantly enriched in stage IV tumors (P = 0.004), whereas several immune-related KEGG pathways were enriched in stage III. Stage IV tumors had significantly increased macrophage infiltration (P = 0.0214), and stage III tumors had a significantly higher proportion of CD4 + T cells (P = 0.017). CD4 + T cells were also relatively more abundant in EGFR-mutant tumors vs. wild-type (P = 0.0081).

Directly comparing the TIMEs of stage III and IV NSCLC, these results carry implications for further studies of ICB response in non-resectable stage III NSCLC and guide further research of prognostic biomarkers and therapeutic targets.