Background The use of proteins as immunogens is attractive for the development of vaccines, but requires efficient adjuvants to overcome their weak immunogenicity. Recently, we investigated the potential of the TLR2/4 agonist hyaluronan (HA) as an immunological adjuvant for protein-based vaccines.1 2 Conjugation of HA to antigens strongly increased their immunogenicity and promoted their rapid translocation to draining lymph nodes, resulting in robust and long-lasting humoral responses.1 On these bases, we investigated the potentiality of HA-based technology in the design of cancer vaccines. To this aim, HA was conjugated to the extracellular domain of rat HER2/neu (rHER2/neu) and validated in the preventive and therapeutic vaccination settings.
Materials and Methods Female BALB/c or BALB-neuT mice were immunized with rHER2/neu-HA. In vivo depletion of CD4+, CD8+ T and B cells was performed, and sera and spleens were collected to characterized antigen-specific humoral and cellular responses. Vaccinated BALB/c mice were challenged and re-challenged with rHER2/neu-overexpressing TUBO cells to assess the protective or therapeutic activity of rHER2/neu-HA vaccination strategy, as well as immunological memory.
Results HA performed efficiently as robust and long-lasting humoral (IgG1, IgG2a, and IgG2b) and cellular responses were detected using very low antigen doses and number of boosters. Outstandingly, at 1-year post-vaccination, anti-rHER2/neu specific antibodies showed even improved effector functions (maturation of affinity for the receptor and increased complement-derived cytotoxicity functions). HA vaccination turned out effective in both the prophylactic (100% mice survived) and therapeutic (tumor regression in 2/12 mice) settings, and broke tolerance against rHER2/neu, delaying spontaneous tumor growth in BALB-neuT mice. Both humoral and cellular responses contributed to the success of HA-based vaccination, but CD8+ T cells played only a marginal role.
Conclusions Cancer vaccines have not yet achieved significant clinical efficacy due to their poor immunogenicity, and the validation of more effective adjuvants occurred sometimes at the expense of safety. HA combines the unique immunomodulatory features of a TLR agonist with the tolerability of a fully natural polymer, proving to be a promising adjuvant for the creation of effective and safe cancer vaccines with the potential for rapid clinical translation.
Dalla Pietà A, Carpanese D, et al. Hyaluronan is a natural and effective immunological adjuvant for protein-based vaccines. Cell Mol Immunol 2021;18(5):1197–1210.
Rosato A, Montagner IM, Carpanese D, Dalla Pietà A. Hyaluronic acid as a natural adjuvant for protein and peptide-based vaccines. 30.04.2020. WO/2020/084558, PCT/IB2019/059122.
Disclosure Information D. Carpanese: None. I. Montagner: None. A. Dalla Pietà: None. V. Rossi: None. A. Penna: None. G. Zuccolotto: None. G. Pasut: None. A. Grigoletto: None. A. Rosato: None.