Characterization of the T cell receptor repertoire and melanoma tumor microenvironment upon combined treatment with ipilimumab and hTERT vaccination

J Transl Med. 2022 Sep 11;20(1):419. doi: 10.1186/s12967-022-03624-z.


Background: This clinical trial evaluated a novel telomerase-targeting therapeutic cancer vaccine, UV1, in combination with ipilimumab, in patients with metastatic melanoma. Translational research was conducted on patient-derived blood and tissue samples with the goal of elucidating the effects of treatment on the T cell receptor repertoire and tumor microenvironment.

Methods: The trial was an open-label, single-center phase I/IIa study. Eligible patients had unresectable metastatic melanoma. Patients received up to 9 UV1 vaccinations and four ipilimumab infusions. Clinical responses were assessed according to RECIST 1.1. Patients were followed up for progression-free survival (PFS) and overall survival (OS). Whole-exome and RNA sequencing, and multiplex immunofluorescence were performed on the biopsies. T cell receptor (TCR) sequencing was performed on the peripheral blood and tumor tissues.

Results: Twelve patients were enrolled in the study. Vaccine-specific immune responses were detected in 91% of evaluable patients. Clinical responses were observed in four patients. The mPFS was 6.7 months, and the mOS was 66.3 months. There was no association between baseline tumor mutational burden, neoantigen load, IFN-γ gene signature, tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes, and response to therapy. Tumor telomerase expression was confirmed in all available biopsies. Vaccine-enriched TCR clones were detected in blood and biopsy, and an increase in the tumor IFN-γ gene signature was detected in clinically responding patients.

Conclusion: Clinical responses were observed irrespective of established predictive biomarkers for checkpoint inhibitor efficacy, indicating an added benefit of the vaccine-induced T cells. The clinical and immunological read-out warrants further investigation of UV1 in combination with checkpoint inhibitors. Trial registration identifier: NCT02275416. Registered October 27, 2014.

Keywords: Cancer; Immunotherapy; Ipilimumab; Melanoma; Telomerase; Therapeutic Cancer Vaccine; hTERT.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase I
  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Ipilimumab / pharmacology
  • Ipilimumab / therapeutic use
  • Melanoma* / pathology
  • Telomerase*
  • Tumor Microenvironment
  • Vaccination


  • Ipilimumab
  • Telomerase

Associated data