Microsatellite Instability: A Predictive Biomarker for Cancer Immunotherapy

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Immunotherapy has shown promising results in various types of cancers. Checkpoint inhibitor drugs developed for cancer immunotherapy have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for patients with advanced melanoma, non–small cell lung cancer, renal cell carcinoma, bladder cancers, and refractory Hodgkin lymphoma. In the latest announcement, the FDA has granted accelerated approval to pembrolizumab for pediatric and adult patients with microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) or mismatch repair–deficient solid tumors. This is the first time the agency has approved a cancer treatment based on a common biomarker rather than organ-based approach. MSI-H, either due to inherited germline mutations of mismatch repair genes or epigenetic inactivation of these genes, is found in a subset of colorectal and noncolorectal carcinomas. It is known that MSI-H causes a build up of somatic mutations in tumor cells and leads to a spectrum of molecular and biological changes including high tumor mutational burden, increased expression of neoantigens and abundant tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes. These changes have been linked to increased sensitivity to checkpoint inhibitor drugs. In this mini review, we provide an update on MSI-related solid tumors with special focus on the predictive role of MSI for checkpoint immunotherapy.

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