Background Subunit vaccines targeting tumor antigens have shown limited capacity for expanding cytotoxic T-cells against tumors in the clinic. Especially in the case of KRAS-driven tumors, responses elicited by conventional vaccines have been exceedingly weak. For molecular immunogens including peptides and oligonucleotides, inefficient delivery to immune cells residing in the lymphatics is a significant challenge limiting their ability to induce cancer-directed immune responses of sufficient strength and functionality to impact tumors. Improving the targeting of immunogens to lymph nodes (LN), where resident immune cells potently orchestrate immunity, can substantially amplify their ability to induce effective tumor-directed immunity. Here, we demonstrate such an approach for significantly enhancing mKRAS-directed T-cell responses by precisely targeting antigens and adjuvants directly to the draining LN through a simple one-step conjugation to albumin-binding lipids. These amphiphilic conjugates (‘Amphiphiles’, or AMP) then ‘hitch-hike’ on albumin into the LNs where they elicit strong immune responses. LN accumulation of structurally optimized amphiphiles in mice is greatly improved over soluble equivalents.
Methods C57BL/6J mice received two or more doses of benchmark or amphiphile-modified vaccines, comprised of mKRAS peptide and CpG adjuvant, subcutaneously injected into the tail base in two-week intervals. Immunological readouts were performed 7 days post dosing. For ELISpot analysis of IFNγ and Granzyme B production and flowcytometric bead array analysis of Th1/2 cytokines, splenocytes were harvested and re-stimulated with antigen overnight. In vivo, cytolytic capabilities of antigen-specific T-cells were evaluated by pulsing CFSE-stained splenocytes from naïve mice with mKRAS antigen and injecting these cells intravenously into immunized mice. Recovery of CFSE-labeled target cells from immunized mice was performed 24h later and analyzed flowcytometrically.
Results We show robust immune responses that yield strong activation against all common mutations in the mKRAS protein compared to low or undetectable responses generated by soluble or benchmark treatments. Further, this response is composed of CD4+ as well as CD8+ T-cells resulting in the production of high levels of TH1-associated cytokines upon re-stimulation with mKRAS-specific peptides in vitro. In vivo, robust cytolytic function towards mKRAS-presenting targets can be measured in T-cells.
Conclusions By targeting immunogens directly and precisely to the LNs, the Amphiphile platform can significantly amplify the potency of subunit vaccines. In the case of mKRAS, substantially improved cytolytic immune responses represent a promising therapeutic strategy for targeting mKRAS-driven tumor growth and survival in a large fraction of human tumors. Furthermore, this platform technology is simple, rapid and scalable for broad clinical application.
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