Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a highly metastatic and aggressive disease with limited treatment options. Recently, the combination of the immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) atezolizumab (anti-PD-L1) with nab-paclitaxel was approved following a clinical trial that showed response rates in at least 43% of patients. While this approval marks a major advance in the treatment of TNBC it may be possible to improve the efficacy of ICI therapies through further modulation of the suppressive tumor immune microenvironment (TIME). Several factors may limit immune response in TNBC including aberrant growth factor signaling, such as VEGFR2 and cMet signaling, inefficient vascularization, poor delivery of drugs and immune cells, and the skewing of immune cell populations toward immunosuppressive phenotypes. Here we investigate the immune-modulating properties of AXT201, a novel 20 amino-acid integrin-binding peptide in two syngeneic mouse TNBC models: 4T1-BALB/c and NT4-FVB. AXT201 treatment improved survival in the NT4 model by 20% and inhibited the growth of 4T1 tumors by 47% over 22 days post-inoculation. Subsequent immunohistochemical analyses of 4T1 tumors also showed a 53% reduction in vascular density and a 184% increase in pericyte coverage following peptide treatment. Flow cytometry analyses demonstrated evidence of a more favorable anti-tumor immune microenvironment following treatment with AXT201, including significant decreases in the populations of T regulatory cells, monocytic myeloid-derived suppressor cells, and PD-L1 expressing cells and increased expression of T cell functional markers. Together, these findings demonstrate immune-activating properties of AXT201 that could be developed in combination with other immunomodulatory agents in the treatment of TNBC.
Keywords: Immuno-activation; immunomodulating peptide; triple-negative breast cancer; tumor immune microenvironment; vascular normalization.
© 2020 The Author(s). Published with license by Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.