Background: Oncolytic viruses represent a novel form of cancer immunotherapy. Vaccinia viruses encoding human T cell co-stimulatory molecules have demonstrated clinical activity in phase I clinical trials in patients with advanced melanoma. However, predictive biomarkers of therapeutic response have not yet been identified.
Methods: A customized microarray was performed to identify changes in peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC) gene expression upon exposure to recombinant oncolytic vaccinia viruses. Up-regulated and down-regulated genes were identified and selected for further analysis using PBMC samples from normal donors and oncolytic virus-treated patients before and after viral injection. Quantitative PCR and flow cytometry of defined T cell subsets was performed to evaluate expression patterns and clinical correlations.
Results: The microarray identified 301 genes that were up-regulated and 960 genes that were down-regulated in T cells after exposure to oncolytic vaccinia virus. The B7.1 gene was highly up-regulated and the immunoglobulin-like transcript 2 (ILT2) gene was highly down-regulated by vaccinia-B7.1, which was consistent with the known inverse regulation of these two genes. We observed an inverse association between ILT2 expression in the tumor microenvironment and clinical response and further identified ILT2 as a marker of regulatory CD4+ and suppressor CD8+ T cell responses and whose down-regulation was predictive of therapeutic responses in patients treated with oncolytic virus immunotherapy.
Conclusions: ILT2 is a new putative biomarker of T cell and clinical response in patients treated with oncolytic vaccinia virus immunotherapy. Further confirmation of ILT2 as a biomarker requires prospective validation in a larger series of clinical trials.
Keywords: Biomarker; Cancer vaccines; Immunoglobulin-like transcript 2; Immunotherapy; Oncolytic virus; T cells; Vaccinia.