Age effects of distinct immune checkpoint blockade treatments in a mouse melanoma model

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Abstract

Cancer immunotherapy has shown remarkable recent progress. Immune checkpoint blocking antibodies have become the most successful anti-cancer agent class ever developed, with six distinct agents approved since 2011 for a wide variety of cancers. Although age is the biggest risk factor for cancer (aside from selected early-onset pediatric cancers), these agents were tested pre-clinically in young hosts, and there is remarkably little published on the effects of host age on treatment outcomes in pre-clinical studies or human clinical trials. The three principal immune checkpoints against which blocking antibodies have been FDA-approved for human use are CTLA-4, PD-1 and PD-L1. We used a mouse model of transplantable, orthotopic B16 melanoma to test age effects of treatments with anti-CTLA-4, anti-PD-1 and anti-PD-L1 antibodies. All three agents were highly effective in treating young tumor-bearing hosts as expected. Anti-PD-L1 as a single agent had no effect on tumor growth in aged hosts, anti-CTLA-4 had detectable, modest effects and anti-PD-1 was essentially as effective in aged as in young hosts, the first single agent we have identified not to lose efficacy with age in this model. Other important differences in young versus aged hosts included lack of anti-CTLA-4-mediated depletion of intratumor regulatory T cells in aged hosts and poorer ability of all three agents to activate T cells in aged versus young hosts. Anti-CTLA-4 efficacy appeared to improve when combined with anti-PD-L1. Regulatory T cell depletion with FDA-approved denileukin diftitox did not improve treatment by any single agent. Aged mice tolerated treatments as well as young mice without obvious toxicities at equivalent doses.

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