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      PD-L1 expression testing in non-small cell lung cancer

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          In recent years, immunotherapy has revolutionized and changed the standard of care in patients with advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Immune checkpoint inhibitors, fundamentally those that act by blocking the programmed cell death receptor-1 (PD-1) and its ligand the programmed cell death ligand-1 (PD-L1) have emerged as novel treatment strategies in NSCLC, demonstrating undoubted superiority over chemotherapy in terms of efficacy. Several of these immune checkpoint modulators have recently gained regulatory approval for the treatment of advanced NSCLC, such as nivolumab, atezolizumab and pembrolizumab in first-line (only the latter) and second-line settings, and more recently, durvalumab as maintenance after chemoradiotherapy in locally advanced disease. There is consensus that PD-L1 expression on tumor cells predicts responsiveness to PD-1 inhibitors in several tumor types. Hence PD-L1 expression evaluated by immunohistochemistry (IHC) is currently used as a clinical decision-making tool to support the use of checkpoint inhibitors in NSCLC patients. However, the value of PD-L1 as the ‘definitive’ biomarker is controversial as its testing is puzzled by multiple unsolved issues such as the use of different staining platforms and antibodies, the type of cells in which PD-L1 is assessed (tumor versus immune cells), thresholds used for PD-L1-positivity, or the source and timing for sample collection. Therefore, newer biomarkers such as tumor mutation burden and neoantigens as well as biomarkers reflecting host environment (microbiome) or tumor inflamed microenvironment (gene expression signatures) are being explored as more reliable and accurate alternatives to IHC for guiding treatment selection with checkpoint inhibitors in NSCLC.

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          Most cited references 34

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          Quantitative Assessment of the Heterogeneity of PD-L1 Expression in Non-Small-Cell Lung Cancer.

          Early-phase trials with monoclonal antibodies targeting PD-1 (programmed cell death protein 1) and PD-L1 (programmed cell death 1 ligand 1) have demonstrated durable clinical responses in patients with non-small-cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, current assays for the prognostic and/or predictive role of tumor PD-L1 expression are not standardized with respect to either quantity or distribution of expression.
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            Harmonized PD-L1 immunohistochemistry for pulmonary squamous-cell and adenocarcinomas.

            Immunohistochemistry of the PD-L1 protein may be predictive for anti-PD-1 and anti-PD-L1 immunotherapy in pulmonary adenocarcinoma and in clinically unselected cohorts of so-called non-small-cell lung cancer. Several PD-L1 immunohistochemistry assays with custom reagents and scoring-criteria are developed in parallel. Biomarker testing and clinical decision making would profit from harmonized PD-L1 diagnostics. To assess interobserver concordance and PD-L1 immunohistochemistry staining patterns, 15 pulmonary carcinoma resection specimens (adenocarcinoma: n=11, squamous-cell carcinoma: n=4) were centrally stained with the assays 28-8, 22C3, SP142, and SP263 according to clinical trial protocols. The slides were evaluated independently by nine pathologists. Proportions of PD-L1-positive carcinoma cells and immune cells were scored according to a 6-step system that integrates the criteria employed by the four PD-L1 immunohistochemistry assays. Proportion scoring of PD-L1-positive carcinoma cells showed moderate interobserver concordance coefficients for the 6-step scoring system (Light's kappa=0.47-0.50). The integrated dichotomous proportion cut-offs (≥1, ≥5, ≥10, ≥50%) showed good concordance coefficients (κ=0.6-0.8). Proportion scoring of PD-L1-positive immune cells yielded low interobserver concordance coefficients both for the 6-step-score (κ<0.2) and the dichotomous cut-offs (κ=0.12-0.25). The assays 28-8 and 22C3 stained similar proportions of carcinoma cells in 12 of 15 cases. SP142 stained fewer carcinoma cells compared to 28-8, 22C3, and SP263 in four cases, whereas SP263 stained more carcinoma cells in nine cases. SP142 and SP263 stained immune cells more intensely. The data indicate that carcinoma cells can be reproducibly scored in PD-L1 immunohistochemistry for pulmonary adenocarcinoma and squamous-cell carcinoma. No differences in interobserver concordance were noticed among the tested assays. The scoring of immune cells yielded low concordance rates and might require specific standardization. The four tested PD-L1 assays did not show comparable staining patterns in all cases. Thus, studies that correlate staining patterns and response to immunotherapy are required to test the significance of the observed differences.
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              Agreement between Programmed Cell Death Ligand-1 Diagnostic Assays across Multiple Protein Expression Cutoffs in Non–Small Cell Lung Cancer


                Author and article information

                Ther Adv Med Oncol
                Ther Adv Med Oncol
                Therapeutic Advances in Medical Oncology
                SAGE Publications (Sage UK: London, England )
                11 April 2018
                : 10
                Department of Pathology, Hospital Clínic, Barcelona, SpainTranslational Genomics and Targeted Therapeutics in Solid Tumors, Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS), Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain
                Translational Genomics and Targeted Therapeutics in Solid Tumors, Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS), Barcelona, Catalunya, SpainMedical Oncology, Hospital Clínic, Barcelona, Spain
                Medical Oncology, Hospital Clínic, Barcelona, Spain
                Department of Medical Oncology, Hospital Clínic, Barcelona, Spain
                Author notes
                © The Author(s), 2018

                This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (

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