Background: Matrix metalloproteinase 9 (MMP9) acts via diverse mechanisms to promote tumor growth, invasion, and metastasis. It activates growth factors and signaling pathways, promotes angiogenesis, and impedes anti-tumor immune responses. We developed a monoclonal antibody that inhibits mouse MMP9 (AB0046) and assessed its mechanism of action in immunocompetent mouse tumor models and in vitro assays.

Methods: We examined MMP9 expression in a variety of human tumor tissues via immunohistochemistry. Human monocytes were differentiated in vitro and protein expression was assessed via enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Primary tumor growth in orthotopic, syngeneic tumor models was examined following anti-MMP9 antibody treatment. RNA sequencing, immunohistochemical and flow cytometry analyses were performed on tumor tissues to assess gene expression, stromal remodeling and macrophage polarization in response to AB0046 treatment.

Results: MMP9 levels are elevated in human tumors compared to healthy tissues. The protein is expressed predominantly in stromal cells, including macrophages and neutrophils, with more occasional heterogeneous expression in tumor epithelia. Differentiation of human monocyte-derived macrophages in vitro revealed that M2 polarization is associated with increased expression of MMP9 and Th2 markers CCL18 and TGFβ. Anti-MMP9 treatment in three independent mouse tumor models (HC11-NeuT, CT26, Lewis lung carcinoma (LLC)) resulted in decreased primary tumor growth (p=0.001 and p=0.018 for HC11-NeuT and CT26 respectively) and increased animal survival (p=0.024 for LLC). Gene expression profiling of tumors from the various models demonstrated that inhibition of MMP9 resulted in elevated expression of genes associated with immune cell activation pathways (Hallmark Interferon Gamma Response, p<0.05, FDR<0.001). Additional analysis in the HC11-NeuT model revealed a significant decrease in M2 macrophages in the tumor microenvironment (p < 0.05) with AB0046 treatment, as well as reductions in tumor-associated fibrillar collagen as assessed by Picrosirius red staining.

Conclusions: These analyses show that MMP9 is expressed in a variety of human tumors. Our data suggest that inhibition of MMP9 promotes anti-tumor immunity and enhances a Th1 immune response. GS-5745, a humanized anti-MMP9 inhibitory antibody, is being evaluated in gastric cancer in phase 3 and 2 studies with chemotherapy and nivolumab, respectively (NCT02545504, NCT02864381).

Citation Format: Vladi Juric, Amanda Mikels-Vigdal, Chris O'Sullivan, Andrew Greenstein, Erin Stefanutti, Vivian Barry-Hamilton, Igor Mikaelian, Ted Sullivan, Erik Huntzicker, Jeremiah Degenhardt, Peng Yue, Victoria Smith. Inhibition of MMP9 improves anti-tumor immunity by changing the tumor microenvironment to promote T cell trafficking and activation [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2017; 2017 Apr 1-5; Washington, DC. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2017;77(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 653. doi:10.1158/1538-7445.AM2017-653