The Role of Anti-PD-1/PD-L1 in the Treatment of Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer

Patrinely JR, et al. BioDrugs 2020 - Review.


Skin cancers remain the most common group of cancers globally, and the incidence continues to rise. Although localized skin cancers tend to have excellent outcomes following surgical excisions, the less common cases that become surgically unresectable or metastatic have been associated with poor prognosis and suboptimal treatment responses to cytotoxic chemotherapy. Development of monoclonal antibodies to programmed cell death-1 receptor and its ligand (PD-1/PD-L1) have transformed the

management of metastatic melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and Merkel cell carcinoma. These agents, as monotherapies, are associated with response rates of approximately 40-60%, many of which persist durably. Further efficacy is observed with combination immunotherapy in advanced melanoma. Early reports suggest similar activity in locally advanced or metastatic basal cell carcinoma. In this review, we describe common molecular features of skin cancers that may render them particularly susceptible to anti-PD-1/PD-L1 and detail results from key clinical trials of these agents across skin cancers. Overall, the superior response rates of skin cancer to anti-PD-1/PD-L1 compared with other solid tumor types are likely due, at least in part, to a high mutational burden and, in Merkel cell carcinoma, viral etiology. Although melanoma has been rigorously studied in the setting of anti-PD-1/PD-L1 treatment, more research is needed for the other skin cancer types to establish toxicity profiles, responses, and quality-of-life outcomes.