Previous work from our lab has demonstrated that a combination of anti-tumor antibody and an IL-2 fusion protein that exhibits extended serum half-life elicits an immune response that can effectively control a wide variety of tumor models. We have since then combined this therapeutic regimen with a vaccine exhibiting efficient lymph node trafficking that can generate an impressive population of tumor-antigen specific CD8+ T-cells but by itself does not provide good anti-tumor efficacy. The efficacy of this combination immunotherapy is further boosted by immune checkpoint blockade, leading to a robust four-component therapy: 1) anti-tumor antigen antibody; 2) IL-2 fusion protein; 3) anti-tumor antigen vaccine; 4) anti-PD-1 antibody.

Although this four-pronged approach is demonstrably effective in the syngeneic subcutaneous melanoma model B16F10, we wish to test its efficacy in a more physiological model. To this end, we have turned to a model developed by the Jacks Lab, known as the KP model: an inducible lung tumor model where lentivirus-driven integration and expression of Cre is able to activate oncogenic Kras and completely remove p53 function. Because our therapeutic regimen requires a targetable tumor-associated antigen with respect to both the antibody and vaccine, we chose to induce expression of human carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) in these tumors, as CEA has a well-studied structure and biology, and frequently expresses aberrantly in many forms of human adenocarcinomas. Additionally, our lab has previously engineered an antibody targeting CEA possessing picomolar affinity. Finally, to remove any endogenous immunological response against human CEA as a foreign antigen in our mouse system, we have crossed the KP model with a mouse model transgenic for human CEA, which in the literature has been described to have identical spatiotemporal expression of CEA as found in humans and should allow for central tolerance of this antigen.

In the course of this work, we have successfully introduced human CEA into our lentivirus constructs and shown tumorigenesis by these constructs in the KP model coincides with expression of tumor-associated CEA, as detected by qPCR. On the therapeutic side, we have tailored the vaccine to successfully drive an anti-CEA CD8+ T-cell response. Performing preliminary therapeutic experiments in a transplant model of the KP tumor with our four-component therapy, we saw tumor control compared to untreated tumors. Upon interrogating the CD8+ T-cell response against CEA, we found 1-15% of CD8+ T-cells in the blood respond to CEA stimulation by intracellular cytokine staining. With regards to the lung tumor model, in the course of establishing the system we have also observed that the growth kinetics of tumors expressing CEA lags behind those tumors without CEA, even in the transgenic background. Preliminary immunophenotyping work by flow cytometry suggests that tumors with CEA seem to have a reduced myeloid-derived suppressor cell (MDSC) population and a higher CD8a+ dendritic cell (DC) population compared to tumors without CEA, suggesting that the former may have a less immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment that is better able to prime an anti-tumor CD8+ T-cell response. We will be planning to conduct therapeutic trials in the more physiological lung tumor KP model in the near future, as well as investigate the differences in the immune response with tumors expressing or lacking CEA.

Citation Format: Eric F. Zhu, Kavya Rakhra, Naveen Mehta, Kelly D. Moynihan, Cary F. Opel, Darrell J. Irvine, K. Dane Wittrup. Characterization and combination immunotherapy treatment of an inducible autochthonous murine lung cancer model expressing human carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA) as a tumor-associated self-antigen. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR Inaugural International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference: Translating Science into Survival; September 16-19, 2015; New York, NY. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Immunol Res 2016;4(1 Suppl):Abstract nr B120.