Research ArticleCancer

Vaccination during myeloid cell depletion by cancer chemotherapy fosters robust T cell responses

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Science Translational Medicine  13 Apr 2016:
Vol. 8, Issue 334, pp. 334ra52
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aad8307

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Vaccinating cancer away

Cervical cancer, a common killer of women worldwide, is most often caused by human papillomavirus type 16 (HPV16). Although a vaccine targeting this virus is available and very effective at preventing cervical cancer, it does not work once cancer is already established, and advanced cervical cancer is very difficult to treat. Welters et al. have developed a method of therapeutic vaccination, where they synthesize long peptides mimicking key oncogenic proteins from HPV16 and use them to treat patients. Although it is too early to tell how the new vaccine will affect patient survival, combining it with chemotherapy helped strengthen patients’ immune responses against the cancer, so it is a promising candidate for further clinical development.


Therapeutic vaccination with human papillomavirus type 16 synthetic long peptides (HPV16-SLPs) results in T cell–mediated regression of HPV16-induced premalignant lesions but fails to install clinically effective immunity in patients with HPV16-positive cervical cancer. We explored whether HPV16-SLP vaccination can be combined with standard carboplatin and paclitaxel chemotherapy to improve immunity and which time point would be optimal for vaccination. This was studied in the HPV16 E6/E7–positive TC-1 mouse tumor model and in patients with advanced cervical cancer. In mice and patients, the presence of a progressing tumor was associated with abnormal frequencies of circulating myeloid cells. Treatment of TC-1–bearing mice with chemotherapy and therapeutic vaccination resulted in superior survival and was directly related to a chemotherapy-mediated altered composition of the myeloid cell population in the blood and tumor. Chemotherapy had no effect on tumor-specific T cell responses. In advanced cervical cancer patients, carboplatin-paclitaxel also normalized the abnormal numbers of circulating myeloid cells, and this was associated with increased T cell reactivity to recall antigens. The effect was most pronounced starting 2 weeks after the second cycle of chemotherapy, providing an optimal immunological window for vaccination. This was validated with a single dose of HPV16-SLP vaccine given in this time window. The resulting proliferative HPV16-specific T cell responses were unusually strong and were retained after all cycles of chemotherapy. In conclusion, carboplatin-paclitaxel therapy fosters vigorous vaccine-induced T cell responses when vaccination is given after chemotherapy and has reset the tumor-induced abnormal myeloid cell composition to normal values.

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