Background: Although imatinib is the standard treatment for chronic myeloid leukaemia, not all patients reach complete cytogenetic remission (CCR) and most maintain detectable disease at the molecular level. We investigated whether a vaccine targeting the BCR-ABL-derived p210 fusion protein was an active and specific immunotherapy.
Methods: We recruited 16 patients who had chronic myeloid leukaemia (with the b3a2 fusion point of p210), stable residual disease, a minimum treatment of 12 months of imatinib or 24 months of interferon alfa, and no further reduction of residual disease for at least 6 months preceding enrollment. They were given six vaccinations with a peptide vaccine derived from the sequence p210-b3a2 plus molgramostim and QS-21 as adjuvants (CMLVAX100) before assessment of immunological and disease response, which included detecting amounts of b3a2 transcripts by standardised quantitative real-time reverse-transcriptase PCR.
Results: Of ten patients on imatinib, nine started CMLVAX100 having had a median of 10 months' stable cytogenetic disease (median 10% Philadelphia-chromosome-positive metaphases), whereas one started in stable CCR. All patients' cytogenetic responses improved after six vaccinations, with five reaching CCR. Notably, three of these five patients also had undetectable amounts of b3a2 transcript (BCR-ABL:beta2 microglobulin ratio <0.00001). Six patients on interferon alfa treatment with a median of 17 months' stable residual disease (median 13% Philadelphia-chromosome-positive cells) were also vaccinated. All but one had improved cytogenetic responses, and two reached CCR. Overall, we recorded peptide-specific delayed-type hypersensitivity (in 11 of 16 patients), CD4 cell proliferation (13 of 14 assessed), and interferon gamma production (five of five assessed).
Interpretation: Addition of CMLVAX100 to conventional treatment in patients with chronic myeloid leukaemia might favour further reduction of residual disease and increase the number of patients reaching a molecular response.