Blockade of the coinhibitory checkpoint molecule PD-1 has emerged as an effective treatment for many cancers, resulting in remarkable responses. However, despite successes in the clinic, most patients do not respond to PD-1 blockade. Metabolic dysregulation is a common phenotype in cancer, but both patients and tumors are metabolically heterogeneous. We hypothesized that the deregulated oxidative energetics of tumor cells present a metabolic barrier to antitumor immunity through the generation of a hypoxic microenvironment and that normalization of tumor hypoxia might improve response to immunotherapy. We show that the murine tumor lines B16 and MC38 differed in their ability to consume oxygen and produce hypoxic environments, which correlated with their sensitivity to checkpoint blockade. Metformin, a broadly prescribed type II diabetes treatment, inhibited oxygen consumption in tumor cells in vitro and in vivo, resulting in reduced intratumoral hypoxia. Although metformin monotherapy had little therapeutic benefit in highly aggressive tumors, combination of metformin with PD-1 blockade resulted in improved intratumoral T-cell function and tumor clearance. Our data suggest tumor hypoxia acts as a barrier to immunotherapy, and that remodeling the hypoxic tumor microenvironment has potential to convert patients resistant to immunotherapy into those that receive clinical benefit.
- Received May 11, 2016.
- Revision received October 20, 2016.
- Accepted November 10, 2016.
- Copyright ©2016, American Association for Cancer Research.