The Reversal of Immune Exclusion Mediated by Tadalafil and an Anti-tumor Vaccine Also Induces PDL1 Upregulation in Recurrent Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Interim Analysis of a Phase I Clinical Trial

Front Immunol. 2019 May 31;10:1206. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2019.01206. eCollection 2019.


Myeloid Derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) play a key role in the progression and recurrence of human malignancies and in restraining the efficacy of adjuvant therapies. We have previously shown that Tadalafil lowers MDSCs and regulatory T cells (Treg) in the blood and in the tumor, primes a tumor specific immune response, and increases the number of activated intratumoral CD8+T cells in patients with primary Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC). However, despite these important immune modulatory actions, to date no clinically significant effects have been reported following PDE5 inhibition. Here we report for the first time interim results of our ongoing phase I clinical trial (NCT02544880) in patients with recurrent HNSCC to evaluate the safety of and immunological effects of combining Tadalafil with the antitumor vaccine composed of Mucin1 (MUC1) and polyICLC. The combined treatment of Tadalafil and MUC1/polyICLC vaccine was well-tolerated with no serious adverse events or treatment limiting toxicities. Immunologically, this trial also confirms the positive immunomodulation of Tadalafil in patients with recurrent HNSCC and suggests an adjuvant effect of the anti-tumor vaccine MUC1/polyICLC. Additionally, image cytometry analysis of scanned tumors indicates that the PDE5 inhibitor Tadalafil in conjunction with the MUC1/polyICLC vaccine effectively reduces the number of PDL1+macrophages present at the tumor edge, and increases the number of activated tumor infiltrating T cells, suggesting reversion of immune exclusion. However, this analysis shows also that CD163 negative cells within the tumor upregulate PDL1 after treatment, suggesting the instauration of additional mechanisms of immune evasion. In summary, our data confirm the safety and immunologic potential of PDE5 inhibition in HNSCC but also point to PDL1 as additional mechanism of tumor evasion. This supports the rationale for combining checkpoint and PDE5 inhibitors for the treatment of human malignancies.

Keywords: PDE5; PDL1; immune exclusion; mucin 1 vaccine; myeloid derived suppressor cells; poly-ICLC; recurrent HNSCC; tadalafil.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase I

MeSH terms

  • B7-H1 Antigen / genetics*
  • B7-H1 Antigen / metabolism
  • Biomarkers
  • Cancer Vaccines / immunology*
  • Cancer Vaccines / therapeutic use
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Neoplastic*
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Immunomodulation / drug effects*
  • Kaplan-Meier Estimate
  • Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells / immunology
  • Myeloid-Derived Suppressor Cells / metabolism
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / etiology*
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / metabolism
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / pathology
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma of Head and Neck / therapy*
  • Tadalafil / administration & dosage*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Biomarkers
  • CD274 protein, human
  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Tadalafil

Associated data