Given the activity noted with both CTLA-4 or PD-1 blockade, clinical trials are now investigating combination checkpoint blockade. The most mature data with a combination of ipilimumab + nivolumab in melanoma showed a response rate of 60% in the context of increased, yet manageable toxicity. Such responses are generally durable, even when treatment was stopped early for toxicity. Unlike in studies of PD-1 blockade monotherapy, there was no significant difference in clinical activity based on tumor expression of PD-L1. This approach has gained US regulatory approval for metastatic melanoma and is in late stage clinical trials for other malignancies. Attention is being paid to the reasons underlying the efficacy of checkpoint blockade in certain malignancies. One hypothesis has been that cancers having a high mutational load may be more amenable to immune modulation by virtue of the larger number of potential neo-epitopes present, fostering baseline immune recognition that can then be potentiated by checkpoint blockade. We have found that melanoma patients having long term clinical activity with ipilimumab have a significantly greater median number of non-synonymous passenger mutations, compared with patients who do not respond or those who have only short-term regression. Strategies to enhance baseline immune reactivity are therefore necessary to investigate as means to improve the impact of checkpoint blockade on a broad spectrum of cancers. The presence of suppressive myeloid cells and regulatory T cells in the tumor microenvironment is emerging as a mechanism of resistance to the anti-tumor activity for checkpoint blockade. Strategies to overcome this include agonism of GITR and selective suppression of PI3K-g.
Citation Format: Jedd D. Wolchok. Immunotherapy for melanoma: Checkpoint blockade combinations [abstract]. In: Abstracts: AACR Virtual Special Conference: Tumor Immunology and Immunotherapy; 2021 Oct 5-6. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Immunol Res 2022;10(1 Suppl):Abstract nr IA22.