The breast cancer microenvironment comprises a complex stroma including tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs), which can either stimulate tumor progression or promote anti-tumor immunity in response to tumor-derived cues. In general, of all clinical subtypes, triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is characterized by the most extensive infiltration of TILs within tumor stroma, which is consistent with the observation that TNBC seems to clinically respond to immunotherapies at the highest rates. Immune checkpoint blockade (ICB), an immunotherapy that promotes prolonged activation of cytotoxic immune cells to mount robust anti-tumorigenic responses, has yielded limited success in treating breast cancer. IMpassion130 was the first clinical trial to indicate that combining anti-PD-L1 with standard-of-care chemotherapy (nab-paclitaxel) to treat TNBC increases progression-free survival in patients exclusively those with PD-L1 positive tumors. Furthermore, the KEYSTONE-522 trial showed that administering anti-PD-1 in addition to various neoadjuvant chemotherapies increased the pathologic complete response in early stage TNBC patients. Despite promising evidence for immunotherapy success, both clinical trials lacked an experimental ICB-only group, and thus cannot address the therapeutic benefit of ICB alone, or which chemotherapy combination would maximize this benefit. Finally, mechanisms of resistance to ICB in breast cancer remain unexplored. We sought to model ICB response in vivo to elucidate the mechanisms responsible for immunotherapy efficacy in breast cancer, explore the synergistic effects of ICB with chemotherapies, and model ICB resistance.In this study, we investigated the efficacy of anti-PD-L1 as single-agent or in combination with paclitaxel or doxorubicin in the EMT6 (Balb/c) orthotopic mammary tumor model. In this model, single-agent immunotherapy was efficacious in reducing primary tumor growth compared to combination treatment, with a small proportion of complete responses, whereas modest benefit was observed with either chemotherapy alone. Following two rounds of treatment, we analyzed the tumor-immune microenvironment by flow cytometry and gene expression analysis. Anti-PD-L1 alone or in combination with either chemotherapy enhanced infiltration of cytotoxic and effector T cell as well as natural killer cells into the tumor microenvironment. Using gene expression analysis, we observed elevated expression of myeloid recruitment and activation markers in combination-treated tumors, supporting a known role of chemotherapy-induced cell death in myeloid recruitment; however as chemotherapy did not add benefit to tumor response or survival, it is unclear if this effect is detrimental or supportive. Interestingly, completely responsive anti-PD-L1 treated tumors that eventually recurred retained resistance to ICB upon re-implantation in naïve recipient mice, suggesting that tumor-intrinsic factors may contribute to resistance.Herein, we explore an in vivo model that corroborates clinical response to combinatorial immunotherapy approaches in breast cancer patients. We report the immunogenic efficacy of single-agent ICB that upregulates tumoricidal immune cell infiltration into the primary tumor, thereby controlling tumor growth, albeit without achieving complete response in all mice. Additionally, post-therapy recurrent tumors retain resistance upon transplantation, indicating tumor-specific adaptive resistance. This study has potentially significant clinical implications for re-evaluating the contributions of chemotherapy in combination with ICB in TNBC patients.

Citation Format: Ann Hanna, Paula I. Gonzalez-Ericsson, Violeta Sanchez, Melinda E. Sanders, Justin M. Balko. Evaluating the efficacy of immunotherapy in triple negative breast cancer [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the 2020 San Antonio Breast Cancer Virtual Symposium; 2020 Dec 8-11; San Antonio, TX. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2021;81(4 Suppl):Abstract nr PS17-14.