Immune checkpoint therapy (ICT) is currently ineffective in a majority of patients. Tumor drug exposure measurements can provide vital insights into mechanisms involved in the resistance of solid tumors to those therapeutics; however, tools to quantify in situ drug exposure are few. We have investigated the potential of programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1) pharmacodynamics, quantified using PET, to inform on the tumor exposure of anti–PD-L1 (aPD-L1) therapeutics.

Experimental Design:

To noninvasively quantify PD-L1 levels, we first developed a novel peptide-based gallium-68–labeled binder, [68Ga]Ga-DK223, and evaluated its in vivo distribution, pharmacokinetics, and PD-L1 specificity in preclinical models of triple-negative breast cancer and urothelial carcinoma with variable PD-L1 expression. We then quantified baseline and accessible PD-L1 levels in tumors as a noninvasive pharmacodynamic measure to assess tumor exposure to two aPD-L1 antibodies (avelumab and durvalumab).


DK223 exhibited a KD of 1.01±0.83 nmol/L for PD-L1 and inhibited the PD-1:PD-L1 interaction in a dose-dependent manner. [68Ga]Ga-DK223 provides high-contrast PET images within 60 minutes of administration and detects PD-L1 in an expression-dependent manner in xenograft models. PD-L1 pharmacodynamics measured using [68Ga]Ga-DK223-PET revealed that avelumab and durvalumab had similar exposure early during therapy, but only durvalumab exhibited sustained exposure at the tumor.


[68Ga]Ga-DK223 detected variable PD-L1 levels and exhibited salient features required for clinical translation. [68Ga]Ga-DK223-PET could be useful for quantifying total PD-L1 levels at baseline and accessible PD-L1 levels during therapy to understand drug exposure at the tumor, thus supporting its use for guiding and optimizing ICT.

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