An engineered oncolytic vaccinia virus encoding a single-chain variable fragment against TIGIT induces effective antitumor immunity and synergizes with PD-1 or LAG-3 blockade

J Immunother Cancer. 2021 Dec;9(12):e002843. doi: 10.1136/jitc-2021-002843.


Background: In addition to directly lysing tumors, oncolytic viruses also induce antitumor immunity by recruiting and activating immune cells in the local tumor microenvironment. However, the activation of the immune cells induced by oncolytic viruses is always accompanied by high-level expression of immune checkpoints in these cells, which may reduce the efficacy of the oncolytic viruses. The aim of this study is to arm the oncolytic vaccinia virus (VV) with immune checkpoint blockade to enhance its antitumor efficacy.

Methods: Through homologous recombination with the parental VV, an engineered VV-scFv-TIGIT was produced, which encodes a single-chain variable fragment (scFv) targeting T-cell immunoglobulin and ITIM domain (TIGIT). The antitumor efficacy of the VV-scFv-TIGIT was explored in several subcutaneous and ascites tumor models. The antitumor efficacy of VV-scFv-TIGIT combined with programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) or lymphocyte-activation gene 3 (LAG-3) blockade was also investigated.

Results: The VV-scFv-TIGIT effectively replicated in tumor cells and lysed them, and prompt the infected tumor cells to secret the functional scFv-TIGIT. Compared with control VV, intratumoral injection of VV-scFv-TIGIT in several mouse subcutaneous tumor models showed superior antitumor efficacy, accompanied by more T cell infiltration and a higher degree of CD8+ T cells activation. Intraperitoneal injection of VV-scFv-TIGIT in a mouse model of malignant ascites also significantly improved T cell infiltration and CD8+ T cell activation, resulting in more than 90% of the tumor-bearing mice being cured. Furthermore, the antitumor immune response induced by VV-scFv-TIGIT was dependent on CD8+ T cells which mediated a long-term immunological memory and a systemic antitumor immunity against the same tumor. Finally, the additional combination of PD-1 or LAG-3 blockade further enhanced the antitumor efficacy of VV-scFv-TIGIT, increasing the complete response rate of tumor-bearing mice.

Conclusions: Oncolytic virotherapy using engineered VV-scFv-TIGIT was an effective strategy for cancer immunotherapy. Administration of VV-scFv-TIGIT caused a profound reshaping of the suppressive tumor microenvironment from 'cold' to 'hot' status. VV-scFv-TIGIT also synergized with PD-1 or LAG-3 blockade to achieve a complete response to tumors with poor response to VV or immune checkpoint blockade monotherapy.

Keywords: immunotherapy; oncolytic virotherapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, CD / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Lymphocyte Activation Gene 3 Protein
  • Mice
  • Oncolytic Viruses / drug effects*
  • Receptors, Immunologic / immunology*
  • Vaccinia virus / drug effects*


  • Antigens, CD
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors
  • Receptors, Immunologic
  • TIGIT protein, human
  • Lymphocyte Activation Gene 3 Protein