'Universal cancer vaccine' has a long way to go before being universal - Successfully tested on melanoma patients

06/02/2016 - 05:37

Ian Johnston

Scientists have taken a “very positive step” towards creating a universal vaccine against cancer that makes the body’s immune system attack tumours as if they were a virus, experts have said.

Writing in Nature, an international team of researchers described how they had taken pieces of cancer’s genetic RNA code, put them into tiny nanoparticles of fat and then injected the mixture into the bloodstreams of three patients in the advanced stages of the disease.

The patients' immune systems responded by producing "killer" T-cells designed to attack cancer.


Ref: Systemic RNA delivery to dendritic cells exploits antiviral defence for cancer immunotherapy. Nature (1 June 2016) | DOI: 10.1038/nature18300


Lymphoid organs, in which antigen presenting cells (APCs) are in close proximity to T cells, are the ideal microenvironment for efficient priming and amplification of T-cell responses1. However, the systemic delivery of vaccine antigens into dendritic cells (DCs) is hampered by various technical challenges. Here we show that DCs can be targeted precisely and effectively in vivo using intravenously administered RNA-lipoplexes (RNA-LPX) based on well-known lipid carriers by optimally adjusting net charge, without the need for functionalization of particles with molecular ligands. The LPX protects RNA from extracellular ribonucleases and mediates its efficient uptake and expression of the encoded antigen by DC populations and macrophages in various lymphoid compartments. RNA-LPX triggers interferon-α (IFNα) release by plasmacytoid DCs and macrophages. Consequently, DC maturation in situ and inflammatory immune mechanisms reminiscent of those in the early systemic phase of viral infection are activated 2. We show that RNA-LPX encoding viral or mutant neo-antigens or endogenous self-antigens induce strong effector and memory T-cell responses, and mediate potent IFNα-dependent rejection of progressive tumours. A phase I dose-escalation trial testing RNA-LPX that encode shared tumour antigens is ongoing. In the first three melanoma patients treated at a low-dose level, IFNα and strong antigen-specific T-cell responses were induced, supporting the identified mode of action and potency. As any polypeptide-based antigen can be encoded as RNA 3,4, RNA-LPX represent a universally applicable vaccine class for systemic DC targeting and synchronized induction of both highly potent adaptive as well as type-I-IFN-mediated innate immune mechanisms for cancer immunotherapy.