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Immune induction strategies to enhance the sensitivity to PD-1 blockade in metastatic triple negative breast cancer: the TONIC-trial

The response rate in metastatic triple negative breast cancer (TNBC) to PD-1 blockade is low, highlighting an urgent clinical need for strategies that render the TNBC tumor microenvironment (TME) more sensitive to PD-1 blockade. Immunomodulatory mechanisms have been proposed for both chemotherapy and irradiation, but it has not been established whether these therapies may improve efficacy of PD-1 blockade by favorably changing the TME. In the first stage of this adaptive, non-comparative phase II trial (TONIC-trial; NCT02499367), 67 patients with metastatic TNBC were randomized to nivolumab without induction or to one of four induction treatments, consisting of irradiation of one metastatic lesion (3x8 Gy) or a two- week low-dose regimen of cyclophosphamide, cisplatin or doxorubicin, all followed by nivolumab. In the overall cohort of 66 evaluable patients, the objective response rate (ORR; iRECIST16) was 20% (95% CI: 11%-31%), with two complete responses and 11 partial responses. The majority of clinical responses were observed on nivolumab in the cisplatin (ORR 23%; 3/13) and doxorubicin (ORR 35%; 6/17) cohorts. After doxorubicin and cisplatin induction, we detected an upregulation of immune-related genes, involved in PD-1/PD-L1, and T-cell cytotoxicity pathways. This was further supported by enrichment among upregulated genes related to inflammation, JAK-STAT and TNFα-signaling after doxorubicin. In addition, we observed a trend towards increased T-cell infiltration, measured using T-cell receptor (TCR) sequencing, after doxorubicin. Together, the clinical and translational data of this study testing different immune induction strategies prior to nivolumab suggest that short-term doxorubicin and cisplatin may induce a more favorable TME and increase the likelihood of response to PD-1 blockade in TNBC. These data warrant further confirmation in TNBC and exploration of induction treatments prior to PD-1 blockade in other cancer types.

Click on a Dataset ID in the table below to learn more, and to find out who to contact about access to these data

Dataset ID Description Technology Samples
EGAD00001004857 Illumina HiSeq 2500 65
EGAD00001004858 Illumina HiSeq 2500 97
Publications Citations
Spatial immunophenotypes predict response to anti-PD1 treatment and capture distinct paths of T cell evasion in triple negative breast cancer.
Nat Commun 12: 2021 5668
Combinatorial immunotherapies overcome MYC-driven immune evasion in triple negative breast cancer.
Nat Commun 13: 2022 3671
Author Correction: Combinatorial immunotherapies overcome MYC-driven immune evasion in triple negative breast cancer.
Nat Commun 13: 2022 7140