Novel and unique DNA vaccine to fight effectively against cancer antigen

Scientists at The Wistar Institute and Inovio pharmaceuticals, Inc. have devised a unique deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) vaccine approach through molecular design to boost the immune responses induced against one of the most important cancer antigen targets. Research results were published in the journal Molecular Therapy.

Cancer immunotherapy approaches, designed to harness the body’s natural immune defenses to focus on and kill cancer cells, are showing great promise for cancer treatment and prevention. DNA vaccines can induce immunity through the delivery by an intramuscular injection of a sequence of synthetically designed DNA that contains the instructions for the immune cells in the body to become activated and target a particular antigen against which an immunologic response is wanted.

Despite being specific for cancer cells, cancer tumor-associated antigens generally trigger weak immune responses as a result of they’re recognized as self-antigens and also the body has in place natural mechanisms of immune acceptance, or “Tolerance”, that forestall autoimmunity and also additionally limit the efficacy of cancer vaccines. This is often the case of Wilm’s tumor gene 1 (WT1), a cancer tumor antigen that’s overexpressed in many varieties of cancer and possibly plays a key role in driving tumor development. vaccine approaches against WT1 thus far haven’t appeared promising because of immune tolerance leading to poor immune responses against cancers expressing WT1.

Wistar scientists have developed a unique WT1 deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) vaccine employing a strategically changed DNA sequence that tags the WT1 as foreign to the host immune system breaking tolerance in animal models.

“This is an important time in the development of anti-DNA cancer immune therapy approaches. This team has developed an approach that may play an important role in generating improved immunity to WT1 expressing cancers,”said David B. Weiner, Ph.D., Executive Vice President and Director of the Vaccine Center at The Wistar Institute and the W.W. Smith Charitable Trust Professor in Cancer Research, and senior author of the study.”These immune responses represent a unique tool for potentially treating patients with multiple forms of cancer. Our vaccine also provides an opportunity to combine this approach with another immune therapy approach, checkpoint inhibitors, to maximize possible immune therapy impact on specific cancers.”

The team lead by Weiner has optimized the dna vaccine employing a artificial dna sequence for WT1 that, while maintaining a very high similarity with the native sequence, contains new modified sequences that differ from native WT1 in an attempt to render it more recognizable by the host immune system. The novel WT1 vaccine was superior to a more traditional native WT1 vaccine because it was able to break immune tolerance and induce long-term immune memory. Significantly, the vaccine also stimulated a therapeutic anti-tumor response against leukemia in mice.

Citation: Walters, Jewell N., Bernadette Ferraro, Elizabeth K. Duperret, Kimberly A. Kraynyak, Jaemi Chu, Ashley Saint-Fleur, Jian Yan, Hy Levitsky, Amir S. Khan, Niranjan Y. Sardesai, and David B. Weiner. “A Novel DNA Vaccine Platform Enhances Neo-antigen-like T Cell Responses against WT1 to Break Tolerance and Induce Anti-tumor Immunity.” Molecular Therapy, 2017. doi:10.1016/j.ymthe.2017.01.022.
Research funding: Inovio Pharmaceuticals, Inc. Basser Center for BRCA/Abramson Cancer CenterWeiner, W.W. Smith Charitable Trust Professorship for Cancer Research.
Adapted from press release by The Wistar Institute.