Background The gut microbiome of cancer patients appears to be associated with response to Immune Checkpoint Inhibitor (ICIs) treatment.1–4 However, the bacteria linked to response differ between published studies.
Methods Longitudinal stool samples were collected from 69 patients with advanced melanoma receiving approved ICIs in the Cambridge (UK) MELRESIST study. Pretreatment samples were analysed by Microbiotica, using shotgun metagenomic sequencing. Microbiotica’s sequencing platform comprises the world’s leading Reference Genome Database and advanced Microbiome Bioinformatics to give the most comprehensive and precise mapping of the gut microbiome. This has enabled us to identify gut bacteria associated with ICI response missed using public reference genomes. Published microbiome studies in advanced melanoma,1–3renal cell carcinoma (RCC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC)4 were reanalysed with the same platform.
Results Analysis of the MELRESIST samples showed an overall change in the microbiome composition between advanced melanoma patients and a panel of healthy donor samples, but not between patients who subsequently responded or did not respond to ICIs. However, we did identify a discrete microbiome signature which correlated with response. This signature predicted response with an accuracy of 93% in the MELRESIST cohort, but was less predictive in the published melanoma cohorts.1–3 Therefore, we developed a bioinformatic analytical model, incorporating an interactive random forest model and the MELRESIST dataset, to identify a microbiome signature which was consistent across all published melanoma studies. This model was validated three times by accurately predicting the outcome of an independent cohort. A final microbiome signature was defined using the validated model on MELRESIST and the three published melanoma cohorts. This was very accurate at predicting response in all four studies combined (91%), or individually (82–100%). This signature was also predictive of response in a NSCLC study and to a lesser extent in RCC. The core of this signature is nine bacteria significantly increased in abundance in responders.
Conclusions Analysis of the MELRESIST study samples, precision microbiome profiling by the Microbiotica Platform and a validated bioinformatic analysis, have enabled us to identify a unique microbiome signature predictive of response to ICI therapy in four independent melanoma studies. This removes the challenge to the field of different bacteria apparently being associated with response in different studies, and could represent a new microbiome biomarker with clinical application. Nine core bacteria may be driving response and hold potential for co-therapy with ICIs.
Ethics Approval The study was approved by Newcastle & North Tyneside 2 Research Ethics Committee, approval number 11/NE/0312.
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