HER2-Displaying M13 Bacteriophages induce Therapeutic Immunity against Breast Cancer

Cancers (Basel). 2022 Aug 22;14(16):4054. doi: 10.3390/cancers14164054.


The advent of trastuzumab has significantly improved the prognosis of HER2-positive (HER2+) breast cancer patients; nevertheless, drug resistance limits its clinical benefit. Anti-HER2 active immunotherapy represents an attractive alternative strategy, but effective immunization needs to overcome the patient's immune tolerance against the self-HER2. Phage display technology, taking advantage of phage intrinsic immunogenicity, permits one to generate effective cancer vaccines able to break immune tolerance to self-antigens. In this study, we demonstrate that both preventive and therapeutic vaccination with M13 bacteriophages, displaying the extracellular (EC) and transmembrane (TM) domains of human HER2 or its Δ16HER2 splice variant on their surface (ECTM and Δ16ECTM phages), delayed mammary tumor onset and reduced tumor growth rate and multiplicity in ∆16HER2 transgenic mice, which are tolerant to human ∆16HER2. This antitumor protection correlated with anti-HER2 antibody production. The molecular mechanisms underlying the anticancer effect of vaccine-elicited anti-HER2 antibodies were analyzed in vitro against BT-474 human breast cancer cells, sensitive or resistant to trastuzumab. Immunoglobulins (IgG) purified from immune sera reduced cell viability mainly by impairing ERK phosphorylation and reactivating retinoblastoma protein function in both trastuzumab-sensitive and -resistant BT-474 cells. In conclusion, we demonstrated that phage-based HER2 vaccines impair mammary cancer onset and progression, opening new perspectives for HER2+ breast cancer treatment.

Keywords: HER2; anti-tumor immunity; bacteriophages; breast cancer; cancer vaccines; Δ16HER2.

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.