The Promises and Challenges of Tumor Mutation Burden as an Immunotherapy Biomarker: A Perspective from the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer Pathology Committee

Lynette M. Sholl, Fred R. Hirsch, David Hwang, Johan Botling, Fernando Lopez-Rios, Lukas Bubendorf, Mari Mino-Kenudson, Anja C. Roden, Mary Beth Beasley, Alain Borczuk, Elisabeth Brambilla, Gang Chen, Teh Ying Chou, Jin Haeng Chung, Wendy A. Cooper, Sanja Dacic, Sylvie Lantuejoul, Deepali Jain, Dongmei Lin, Yuko MinamiAndre Moreira, Andrew G. Nicholson, Masayuki Noguchi, Mauro Papotti, Giuseppe Pelosi, Claudia Poleri, Natasha Rekhtman, Ming Sound Tsao, Erik Thunnissen, William Travis, Yasushi Yatabe, Akihiko Yoshida, Jillian B. Daigneault, Ahmet Zehir, Solange Peters, Ignacio I. Wistuba, Keith M. Kerr, John W. Longshore

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

30 Scopus citations


Immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) therapies have revolutionized the management of patients with NSCLC and have led to unprecedented improvements in response rates and survival in a subset of patients with this fatal disease. However, the available therapies work only for a minority of patients, are associated with substantial societal cost, and may lead to considerable immune-related adverse events. Therefore, patient selection must be optimized through the use of relevant biomarkers. Programmed death-ligand 1 protein expression by immunohistochemistry is widely used today for the selection of programmed cell death protein 1 inhibitor therapy in patients with NSCLC; however, this approach lacks robust sensitivity and specificity for predicting response. Tumor mutation burden (TMB), or the number of somatic mutations derived from next-generation sequencing techniques, has been widely explored as an alternative or complementary biomarker for response to ICIs. In theory, a higher TMB increases the probability of tumor neoantigen production and therefore, the likelihood of immune recognition and tumor cell killing. Although TMB alone is a simplistic surrogate of this complex interplay, it is a quantitative variable that can be relatively readily measured using currently available sequencing techniques. A large number of clinical trials and retrospective analyses, employing both tumor and blood-based sequencing tools, have evaluated the performance of TMB as a predictive biomarker, and in many cases reveal a correlation between high TMB and ICI response rates and progression-free survival. Many challenges remain before the implementation of TMB as a biomarker in clinical practice. These include the following: (1) identification of therapies whose response is best informed by TMB status; (2) robust definition of a predictive TMB cut point; (3) acceptable sequencing panel size and design; and (4) the need for robust technical and informatic rigor to generate precise and accurate TMB measurements across different laboratories. Finally, effective prediction of response to ICI therapy will likely require integration of TMB with a host of other potential biomarkers, including tumor genomic driver alterations, tumor-immune milieu, and other features of the host immune system. This perspective piece will review the current clinical evidence for TMB as a biomarker and address the technical sequencing considerations and ongoing challenges in the use of TMB in routine practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1409-1424
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Thoracic Oncology
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020


  • Biomarker
  • Immunotherapy
  • PD-L1
  • TMB

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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