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Preclinical evaluation of two phylogenetically distant arenavirus vectors for the development of novel immunotherapeutic combination strategies for cancer treatment

April, 04, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles

Background

Engineered arenavirus vectors have recently been developed to leverage the body’s immune system in the fight against chronic viral infections and cancer. Vectors based on Pichinde virus (artPICV) and lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (artLCMV) encoding a non-oncogenic fusion protein of human papillomavirus (HPV)16 E6 and E7 are currently being tested in patients with HPV16+ cancer, showing a favorable safety and tolerability profile and unprecedented expansion of tumor-specific CD8+ T cells. Although the strong antigen-specific immune response elicited by artLCMV vectors has been demonstrated in several preclinical models, PICV-based vectors are much less characterized.

Methods

To advance our understanding of the immunobiology of these two vectors, we analyzed and compared their individual properties in preclinical in vivo and in vitro systems. Immunogenicity and antitumor effect of intratumoral or intravenous administration of both vectors, as well as combination with NKG2A blockade, were evaluated in naïve or TC-1 mouse tumor models. Flow cytometry, Nanostring, and histology analysis were performed to characterize the tumor microenvironment (TME) and T-cell infiltrate following treatment.

Results

Despite being phylogenetically distant, both vectors shared many properties, including preferential infection and activation of professional antigen-presenting cells, and induction of potent tumor-specific CD8+ T-cell responses. Systemic as well as localized treatment induced a proinflammatory shift in the TME, promoting the infiltration of inducible T cell costimulator (ICOS)+CD8+ T cells capable of mediating tumor regression and prolonging survival in a TC-1 mouse tumor model. Still, there was evidence of immunosuppression built-up over time, and increased expression of H2-T23 (ligand for NKG2A T cell inhibitory receptor) following treatment was identified as a potential contributing factor. NKG2A blockade improved the antitumor efficacy of artARENA vectors, suggesting a promising new combination approach. This demonstrates how detailed characterization of arenavirus vector-induced immune responses and TME modulation can inform novel combination therapies.

Conclusions

The artARENA platform represents a strong therapeutic vaccine approach for the treatment of cancer. The induced antitumor immune response builds the backbone for novel combination therapies, which warrant further investigation.

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