Allogeneic whole cell gene modified therapeutic melanoma vaccine (AGI-101H) comprising of two melanoma cell lines transduced with cDNA encoding fusion protein composed of IL-6 linked with the soluble IL-6 receptor (sIL-6R), referred to as H6 was developed. H6 served as a molecular adjuvant, however, it has altered vaccine cells phenotype towards melanoma stem cells (MSC)-like with high activity of aldehyde dehydrogenase isoenzyme (ALDH1A1). AGI-101H was applied in advanced melanoma patients with non-resected and resected disease. In the adjuvant setting, it was combined with surgery in case of recurring metastases, which were surgically removed and vaccination continued. A significant fraction of AGI-101H treated melanoma patients is still alive (11-19 years). Out of 106 living patients, 39 were HLA-A2 positive and were the subject of the study. Immunization of melanoma patients resulted in the generation of cytotoxic CD8+ T cells specific for ALDH1A1, which were detected in circulation by HLA-A0201 MHC dextramers loaded with ALDH1A188-96(LLYKLADLI) peptide. Phenotypically they were central memory CD8+ T cells. Re-stimulation with ALDH1A188-96 ex vivo resulted in IFN-γ secretion and cells degranulation. Following each vaccine dose administration, the number of ALDH1A1-CD8+ T cells increased in circulation and returned to the previous level until next dose injection (one month). ALDH1A1-CD8+ T cells were also found, however in the lower number than in vaccinated patients, in the circulation of untreated melanoma with stage IV but were not found in stage II or III and healthy donors. Specific anti-ALDH1 antibodies were present in treated patients. Long-term survival suggests immuno-targeting of MSC in treated patients.
Keywords: ALDH1A1; Hyper-IL6; IL-6 transsignaling; Melanoma; immunotargeting; melanoma stem cells; whole cell melanoma vaccine.