Predictive Biomarkers for Checkpoint Inhibitor-Based Immunotherapy: The Galectin-3 Signature in NSCLCs


Checkpoint inhibitor-based immunotherapy is opening a promising scenario in oncology, with objective responses registered in multiple cancer types. However, reliable predictive markers of tumor responsiveness are still lacking. These markers need to be urgently identified for a better selection of patients that can be candidates for immunotherapy. In this pilot study, a cohort of 34 consecutive patients bearing programmed death-ligand 1 (PD-L1)-positive non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC), treated with pembrolizumab, was considered. The retrospective immuno-phenotypic analysis performed on the original tumor biopsies allowed for the identification of a specific “galectin signature”, which strongly correlated with tumor responsiveness to anti PD-1 immunotherapy. We observed that the large majority of patients (about 90%) with high galectin-3 tumor expression (score 3+) showed an early and dramatic progression of the disease after three cycles of treatments. In contrast, all patients with negative or low/intermediate expression of galectin-3 in tumor cells showed an early and durable objective response to pembrolizumab, indicating galectin-3 as an interesting predictive marker of tumor responsiveness. The galectin-3 signature, at least in NSCLCs, promises a better selection of patient candidates for immunotherapy, reducing unnecessary treatment exposures and social costs. A large multicenter study is ongoing to validate this finding.