Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology - Theses
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ItemNovel biomarkers for melanoma immunotherapyWong, Ngai Man Annie ( 2020)Traditionally, metastatic melanoma had a dismal prognosis, but the recent advent of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) has extended survival from months to years for some patients. There is an urgent need to identify prognostic and predictive biomarkers for melanoma patients treated with ICI, given that only a minority of patients respond, coupled with the potential treatment related toxicities. This thesis aimed to investigate clinical factors, functional PET imaging and tumour immune profiling as candidate biomarkers for ICI in patients with melanoma. Firstly, Chapter 3 focused on baseline performance status as a biomarker for outcome following anti-PD-1. The hypothesis was that unlike cytotoxic chemotherapy, baseline performance status was not correlated with outcome following ICI, owing to its distinct mechanism of action. However, in the cohort of 91 patients treated with anti-PD-1 at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, poor performance status was correlated with poor survival and low response rate to anti-PD-1. Furthermore, patients with poor performance status were more likely to be hospitalised and more likely to die in hospital. Patient characteristics and blood parameters were further examined in Chapter 4, but specific to a cohort of patients with melanoma brain metastases. Melanoma commonly metastasise to the central nervous system and this is associated with extremely poor survival. Recently, combination ICI has resulted in intracranial responses and durable survival. Most of the existing literature in biomarkers in melanoma brain metastases also predates the introduction of ICI, therefore investigation of biomarkers in patients with melanoma brain metastases treated with ICI is needed. A post-hoc analysis of patients with melanoma brain metastases as part of the phase II Anti-PD1 Brain Collaboration study was performed to identify possible predictors of clinical outcome or toxicity. In this study, patients were randomised to receive either nivolumab monotherapy or nivolumab in combination with ipilimumab. High C-reactive protein, a marker of systemic inflammation, was correlated with poor survival. Treatment with combination ICI, hypernatraemia and increased body mass index were associated with higher likelihood of severe toxicity at 120 days, whereas CRP was not associated with higher toxicity. The thesis then went on to examine the role of FDG PET functional imaging as a source of biomarkers for outcome following ICI in Chapter 5. Baseline pre-treatment tumoural FDG-PET avidity (measured by SUVmax or metabolic tumour volume) as well as FDG-avidity in the immune system (measured by spleen to liver ratio) were assessed in relation to survival outcomes. Interestingly, tumoural PET avidity was not correlated with survival, whereas high spleen to liver ratio was correlated with poor survival after ipilimumab. This was subsequently validated in a combined cohort of patients from two separate European centres. High spleen to liver ratio was correlated with low albumin in a multivariate analysis, thus suggesting a possible association with systemic inflammation. Early on-treatment PET (EOT PET) were assessed in a small subset of 16 patients, and several challenges were identified that may limit the use of FDG PET in this early juncture as a biomarker for outcome after ICI. In-depth characterisation of tumoural immune landscape is crucial to improving the understanding of melanoma immuno-biology, with potential implications for biomarker development. Chapter 6 aimed to compare the immune profile of UV related skin cancers (melanoma, cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma and Merkel cell carcinoma) using orthogonal methods of bulk RNA-sequencing and multi-spectral immunohistochemistry. The three skin cancers showed distinct immune landscapes, with melanoma having a significantly higher intratumoural T cell infiltrate compared to Merkel cell carcinoma, whereas PD-L1 density was highly variable across three skin cancers. Transcriptomic analyses of melanoma samples with high PD-L1 density were associated with upregulation of genes related to leucocyte proliferation, migration and adaptive immune responses, in contrast to MCC samples with high PD-L1 density, where such a signature was not observed. Lastly, an in-depth case study of six patients highlighted how multi-factorial biomarkers such as clinical factors, functional PET imaging, baseline blood parameters, and multi-spectral immunohistochemistry can be applied together. In conclusion, this thesis evaluated multi-factorial biomarkers including clinical, functional imaging and tumoural immune profiling biomarkers. These studies add to the evolving literature on biomarkers associated with ICI treatment. It is envisaged that with time, these complementary methods of understanding the patient and tumoural immune environment can aid rational selection of immune based therapies for patients with advanced melanoma.
ItemExamining the effects of BRAF, MEK and CDK4/6 inhibition on anti-tumor immunity in BRAFV600 melanomaLelliott, Emily Jane ( 2020)The recent advent of targeted and immune-based therapies has revolutionized the treatment of melanoma, and transformed outcomes for patients with metastatic disease. However, the mechanisms underpinning the clinical efficacy of these approaches are still being elucidated. The majority of patients develop resistance to the current standard-of-care targeted therapy, dual BRAF and MEK inhibition (BRAFi+MEKi), prompting evaluation of a new combination incorporating a CDK4/6 inhibitor. Based on promising preclinical data, combined BRAF, MEK and CDK4/6 inhibition (triple therapy) has recently entered clinical trials for the treatment of BRAFV600 melanoma. Interestingly, while BRAFi+MEKi therapy was initially developed on the basis of potent tumor-intrinsic effects, it was later discovered to have significant immune-potentiating activity. Recent studies have also identified immune-related impacts of CDK4/6 inhibition, though these are less well defined and appear to be both immune-potentiating and immune-inhibitory. BRAFV600 melanoma patients are also eligible for immunotherapies, and hence the immunomodulatory activity of these targeted inhibitors makes first-line treatment decisions complex. The aim of this thesis was to examine the immunomodulatory effects of BRAF, MEK and CDK4/6 inhibition, with an ultimate goal of providing critical information to aid in the clinical management of BRAFV600 melanoma patients. Examining mechanisms of the immunomodulatory effects of targeted therapies requires preclinical mouse models of melanoma that are both immunogenic, and harbor the oncogenic drivers targeted by the therapies being evaluated. To address this, we developed a novel immunogenic BrafV600ECdkn2a-/-Pten-/- melanoma mouse model, called YOVAL1.1. YOVAL1.1 tumors are transplantable in immunocompetent mice and amenable to standard-of-care melanoma therapies, including BRAFi+MEKi and immune checkpoint blockade. This, coupled with the Cdkn2a status, which infers some sensitivity to CDK4/6 inhibitors, makes this an ideal preclinical model to evaluate the immunomodulatory effects of the triple therapy. Using this model, we demonstrated that triple therapy promotes durable tumor control through tumor-intrinsic mechanisms, while promoting immunogenic cell death and T cell infiltration. However, despite this, tumors treated with triple therapy were unresponsive to immune checkpoint blockade. Flow cytometric and single cell RNA-seq analyses of tumor infiltrating immune populations revealed that triple therapy markedly depleted pro-inflammatory macrophages and cross priming CD103+ dendritic cells, the absence of which correlated with poor overall survival and clinical responses to immune checkpoint blockade in melanoma patients. Indeed, immune populations isolated from tumors of mice treated with triple therapy failed to stimulate T cell responses ex vivo. Hence, while combined BRAF, MEK and CDK4/6 inhibition demonstrated favorable tumor-intrinsic activity, these data suggest that collateral effects on tumor-infiltrating myeloid populations may impact on anti-tumor immunity. Several recent studies have reported immune-potentiating effects of CDK4/6 inhibition, and subsequent synergy with immune checkpoint blockade. However, T cells are the primary target of these immunotherapies, and an understanding of the direct effects of CDK4/6 inhibition on this cellular subset was lacking. In this thesis, using integrated epigenomic, transcriptomic and single cell CITE-seq analyses, we identified a novel role for CDK4/6 in regulating T cell fate. Specifically, we demonstrated that CDK4/6 inhibition promoted the phenotypic and functional acquisition of T cell memory. Genome-wide CRISPR/Cas9 screening and phospho-proteomics revealed that memory formation in response to CDK4/6 inhibition was cell intrinsic and required RB. Pre-conditioning human CAR T cells with a CDK4/6 inhibitor enhanced their persistence and tumor control, and clinical treatment with a CDK4/6 inhibitor promoted expansion of memory T cells in a melanoma patient, priming a response to immune checkpoint blockade. Collectively these findings highlight the multi-faceted immunomodulatory activity of BRAF, MEK and CDK4/6 inhibition. The addition of a CDK4/6 inhibitor to dual BRAFi+MEKi led to the depletion of intratumoral myeloid subsets that may be critical for supporting a therapeutically beneficial T cell response. In contrast, as an individual therapy, CDK4/6 inhibition promoted effector and memory T cell activity, suggesting that, with optimal scheduling to prevent myeloid depletion, CDK4/6 inhibitors may be used to enhance and prolong BRAFi/MEKi-induced anti-tumor T cell immunity. Defining the mechanisms that underpin the clinical efficacy of these available therapies is a critical step forward in optimising novel combination and scheduling approaches to combat melanoma and improve patient outcomes.