PD-L1 protein expression assessed by immunohistochemistry is neither prognostic nor predictive of benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy in resected non-small cell lung cancer

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The expression of programmed death (PD) ligand 1 (PD-L1) protein expression assessed by immunohistochemistry (IHC) has been correlated with response and survival benefit from anti-PD-1/PD-L1 immune checkpoint inhibitor therapies in advanced non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC). The efficacy of several agents appears correlated with PD-L1 expression. It remains controversial whether PD-L1 is prognostic in NSCLC. We assessed the prognostic value of PD-L1 IHC and its predictive role for adjuvant chemotherapy in early stage NSCLC.

Patients and methods

Tumor sections from three pivotal adjuvant chemotherapy trials (IALT, JBR.10, CALGB 9633) using the E1L3N antibody were studied in this pooled analysis. PD-L1 staining intensity and percentage in both tumor cells (TCs) and immune cells (ICs) were scored by two pathologists. The average or consensus PD-L1 expression levels across intensities and/or percent cells stained were correlated with clinicopathological and molecular features, patient survivals and potential benefit of adjuvant chemotherapy.


Results from 982 patients were available for analysis. Considering staining at any intensities for overall PD-L1 expression, 314 (32.0%), 204 (20.8%) and 141 (14.3%) tumor samples were positive for PD-L1 staining on TCs using cut-offs at ≥1%, ≥10% and ≥25%, respectively. For PD-L1 expressing ICs, 380 (38.7%), 308 (31.4%) and 148 (15.1%) were positive at ≥ 1%, ≥10% and 25% cut-offs, respectively. Positive PD-L1 was correlated with squamous histology, intense lymphocytic infiltrate, and KRAS but not with TP53 mutation. EGFR mutated tumors showed statistically non-significant lower PD-L1 expression. PD-L1 expression was neither prognostic with these cut-offs nor other exploratory cut-offs, nor were predictive for survival benefit from adjuvant chemotherapy.


PD-L1 IHC is not a prognostic factor in early stage NSCLC patients. It is also not predictive for adjuvant chemotherapy benefit in these patients.

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