Scientists are beginning to unravel one of the biggest challenges with immunotherapy: why some people with cancer respond to the treatment, while others may not respond at all.
In a new study, researchers at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center found patients with a particular type of human leukocyte antigen (HLA), a protein scaffold involved in presenting pieces of proteins described as peptides to the immune system, were particularly likely to benefit from immunotherapy. This research explained a surprising finding seen among patients in the clinic.
The data, published in Nature Cancer, focused on a type of HLA called B44, which is present in approximately half of people. In melanoma, patients with HLA-B44 tend to do well with immunotherapy, but in non–small cell lung cancer, the most common type of lung cancer, most people with HLA-B44 did not do as well as people without HLA-B44. In the study, authors figured out that the different responses were driven by the different types of mutations that are common in each of the cancer subtypes.
“Finding out that immunotherapy in HLA-B44 patients performed differently in non–small cell lung cancer than melanoma really set us off on this journey to dive down into how HLA-B44 works,” said lead author Dr. Amy Cummings, clinical instructor of hematology/oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and member of the Jonsson Cancer Center. “Usually you would think that for two types of cancers that generally respond well to immunotherapy, there would be similar principles in terms of characteristics of patients who benefit, but that’s not the case in this instance.”