BackgroundProgrammed death-1 (PD-1) immune checkpoint blockade has achieved clinical successes in cancer therapy. However, the response rate of anti-PD-1 agents remains low. Additionally, a subpopulation of patients developed hyperprogressive disease upon PD-1 blockade therapy. Combination therapy with targeted agents may improve immunotherapy. Recent studies show that p53 activation in the myeloid linage suppresses alternative (M2) macrophage polarization, and attenuates tumor development and invasion, leading to the hypothesis that p53 activation may augment antitumor immunity elicited by anti-PD-1 therapy.MethodUsing APG-115 that is a MDM2 antagonist in clinical development as a pharmacological p53 activator, we investigated the role of p53 in immune modulation and combination therapy with PD-1 blockade.ResultsIn vitro treatment of bone marrow-derived macrophages with APG-115 resulted in activation of p53 and p21, and a decrease in immunosuppressive M2 macrophage population through downregulation of c-Myc and c-Maf. Increased proinflammatory M1 macrophage polarization was observed in the spleen from mice treated with APG-115. Additionally, APG-115 has co-stimulatory activity in T cells and increases PD-L1 expression in tumor cells. In vivo, APG-115 plus anti-PD-1 combination therapy resulted in enhanced antitumor activity in Trp53wt, Trp53mut, and Trp53-deficient (Trp53−/−) syngeneic tumor models. Importantly, such enhanced activity was abolished in a syngeneic tumor model established in Trp53 knockout mice. Despite differential changes in tumor-infiltrating leukocytes (TILs), including the increases in infiltrated cytotoxic CD8+ T cells in Trp53wt tumors and M1 macrophages in Trp53mut tumors, a decrease in the proportion of M2 macrophages consistently occurred in both Trp53wt and Trp53mut tumors upon combination treatment.ConclusionOur results demonstrate that p53 activation mediated by APG-115 promotes antitumor immunity in the tumor microenvironment (TME) regardless of the Trp53 status of tumors per se. Instead, such an effect depends on p53 activation in Trp53 wild-type immune cells in the TME. Based on the data, a phase 1b clinical trial has been launched for the evaluation of APG-115 in combination with pembrolizumab in solid tumor patients including those with TP53mut tumors.