Early kinetics of circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in plasma predict response to pembrolizumab but typically requires sequencing of matched tumor tissue or fixed gene panels. We analyzed genome-wide methylation and fragment-length profiles using cell-free methylated DNA immunoprecipitation and sequencing (cfMeDIP-seq) in 204 plasma samples from 87 patients before and during treatment with pembrolizumab from a pan-cancer phase II investigator-initiated trial (INSPIRE). We trained a pan-cancer methylation signature using independent methylation array data from The Cancer Genome Atlas to quantify cancer-specific methylation (CSM) and fragment-length score (FLS) for each sample. CSM and FLS are strongly correlated with tumor-informed ctDNA levels. Early kinetics of CSM predict overall survival and progression-free survival, independently of tumor type, PD-L1, and tumor mutation burden. Early kinetics of FLS are associated with overall survival independently of CSM. Our tumor-naïve mutation-agnostic ctDNA approach integrating methylomics and fragmentomics could predict outcomes in patients treated with pembrolizumab.


Analysis of methylation and fragment length in plasma using cfMeDIP-seq provides a tumor-naive approach to measure ctDNA with results comparable with a tumor-informed bespoke ctDNA. Early kinetics within the first weeks of treatment in methylation and fragment quantity can predict outcomes with pembrolizumab in patients with various advanced solid tumors.

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