Immune Responses to COVID-19 mRNA Vaccines in Patients with Solid Tumors on Active, Immunosuppressive Cancer Therapy

medRxiv [Preprint]. 2021 Aug 25:2021.05.13.21257129. doi: 10.1101/2021.05.13.21257129.


Vaccines against SARS-CoV-2 have shown high efficacy, but immunocompromised participants were excluded from controlled clinical trials. We compared immune responses to the Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine in solid tumor patients (n=53) on active cytotoxic anti-cancer therapy to a control cohort (n=50) as an observational study. Using live SARS-CoV-2 assays, neutralizing antibodies were detected in 67% and 80% of cancer patients after the first and second immunizations, respectively, with a 3-fold increase in median titers after the booster. Similar trends were observed in serum antibodies against the receptor-binding domain (RBD) and S2 regions of Spike protein, and in IFNγ+ Spike-specific T cells. Yet the magnitude of each of these responses was diminished relative to the control cohort. We therefore quantified RBD- and Spike S1-specific memory B cell subsets as predictors of anamnestic responses to additional immunizations. After the second vaccination, Spike-specific plasma cell-biased memory B cells were observed in most cancer patients at levels similar to those of the control cohort after the first immunization. We initiated an interventional phase 1 trial of a third booster shot (NCT04936997); primary outcomes were immune responses with a secondary outcome of safety. After a third immunization, the 20 participants demonstrated an increase in antibody responses, with a median 3-fold increase in virus-neutralizing titers. Yet no improvement was observed in T cell responses at 1 week after the booster immunization. There were mild adverse events, primarily injection site myalgia, with no serious adverse events after a month of follow-up. These results suggest that a third vaccination improves humoral immunity against COVID-19 in cancer patients on active chemotherapy with no severe adverse events.

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