Tumor mutational burden quantification from targeted gene panels: Major advancements and challenges

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Tumor mutational burden (TMB), the total number of somatic coding mutations in a tumor, is emerging as a promising biomarker for immunotherapy response in cancer patients. TMB can be quantitated by a number of NGS-based sequencing technologies. Whole Exome Sequencing (WES) allows comprehensive measurement of TMB and is considered the gold standard. However, to date WES remains confined to research settings, due to high cost of the large genomic space sequenced. In the clinical setting, instead, targeted enrichment panels (gene panels) of various genomic sizes are emerging as the routine technology for TMB assessment. This stimulated the development of various methods for panel-based TMB quantification, and prompted the multiplication of studies assessing whether TMB can be confidently estimated from the smaller genomic space sampled by gene panels. In this review, we inventory the collection of available gene panels tested for this purpose, illustrating their technical specifications and describing their accuracy and clinical value in TMB assessment. Moreover, we highlight how various experimental, platform-related or methodological variables, as well as bioinformatic pipelines, influence panel-based TMB quantification. The lack of harmonization in panel-based TMB quantification, of adequate methods to convert TMB estimates across different panels and of robust predictive cutoffs, currently represents one of the main limitations to adopt TMB as a biomarker in clinical practice. This overview on the heterogeneous landscape of panel-based TMB quantification aims at providing a context to discuss common standards and illustrates the strong need of further validation and consolidation studies for the clinical interpretation of panel-based TMB values.

Original languageEnglish
Article number183
JournalJournal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jul 15 2019


  • Gene panels
  • Immunotherapy
  • Targeted enrichment sequencing
  • TMB
  • Tumor mutational burden

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cancer Research


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