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Because of its role as an immune checkpoint, levels of soluble programmed cell death protein-1 (sPD-1) could be useful as a prognostic biomarker or predictive biomarker in cancer patients treated with vaccines. Very low levels of sPD-1 may indicate lack of an existing anti-cancer immune response; very high levels may indicate an active immune response that is suppressed. In between these extremes, a decrease in PD-1 following injections of an anti-cancer vaccine may indicate an enhanced immune response that has not been suppressed. Blood samples obtained during a randomized trial in patients with metastatic melanoma were tested from 22 patients treated with a tumor cell vaccine (TCV) and 17 treated with a dendritic cell vaccine (DCV). Survival was better in DCV-treated patients. sPD-1 was measured at week-0, one week before the first of three weekly subcutaneous injections, and at week-4, one week after the third injection. The combination of a very low baseline sPD-1, or absence of a very high PD-1 at baseline followed by a decline in sPD-1 at week-4, was predictive of surviving three or more years in DCV-treated patients, but not TCV-treated. Among DCV-treated patients, these sPD-1 criteria appropriately classified 8/10 (80%) of 3-year survivors, and 6/7 (86%) of patients who did not survive three years. These preliminary observations suggest that sPD-1 might be a useful biomarker for melanoma patients being considered for treatment with this DCV vaccine, and/or to predict efficacy after only three injections, but this would have to be confirmed in larger studies.

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