Therapeutic DNA vaccination against colorectal cancer by targeting the MYB oncoprotein

Clin Transl Immunology. 2015 Jan 9;4(1):e30. doi: 10.1038/cti.2014.29. eCollection 2015 Jan.


Cancers can be addicted to continued and relatively high expression of nuclear oncoproteins. This is evident in colorectal cancer (CRC) where the oncoprotein and transcription factor MYB is over expressed and essential to continued proliferation and tumour cell survival. Historically, targeting transcription factors in the context of cancer has been very challenging. Nevertheless, we formulated a DNA vaccine to generate a MYB-specific immune response in the belief MYB peptides might be aberrantly presented on the cell surface of CRC cells. MYB, like many tumour antigens, is weakly immunogenic as it is a 'self' antigen and is subject to tolerance. To break tolerance, a fusion vaccine was generated comprising a full-length MYB complementary DNA (cDNA) flanked by two potent CD4-epitopes derived from tetanus toxoid. Vaccination was achieved against tumours initiated by two distinct highly aggressive, syngeneic cancer cell lines (CT26 and MC38) that express MYB. This was done in BALB/c and C57BL/6 mouse strains respectively. We introduced multiple inactivating mutations into the oncogene sequence for safety and sub-cloned the cDNA into a Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-compliant vector. We used low dose cyclophosphamide (CY) to overcome T-regulatory cell immune suppression, and anti-program cell death receptor 1 (anti-PD-1) antibodies to block T-cell exhaustion. Anti-PD-1 administered alone slightly delayed tumour growth in MC38 and more effectively in CT26 bearing mice, while CY treatment alone did not. We found that therapeutic vaccination elicits protection when MC38 tumour burden is low, mounts tumour-specific cell killing and affords enhanced protection when MC38 and CT26 tumour burden is higher but only in combination with anti-PD-1 antibody or low dose CY, respectively.