Research Papers:

Prolonged in vivo expression and anti-tumor response of DNA-based anti-HER2 antibodies

Kevin Hollevoet _, Elien De Smidt, Nick Geukens and Paul Declerck

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Oncotarget. 2018; 9:13623-13636. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.24426

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Kevin Hollevoet1, Elien De Smidt1,2, Nick Geukens2 and Paul Declerck1

1Laboratory for Therapeutic and Diagnostic Antibodies, KU Leuven – University of Leuven, Leuven B-3000, Belgium

2PharmAbs, the KU Leuven Antibody Center – University of Leuven, Leuven B-3000, Belgium

Correspondence to:

Kevin Hollevoet, email: [email protected]

Keywords: antibody gene transfer; breast cancer; electroporation; plasmid DNA; trastuzumab

Received: November 30, 2017     Accepted: February 01, 2018     Published: February 06, 2018


Antibody gene transfer presents an appealing alternative to conventional antibody protein therapy. This pre-clinical study evaluates the impact of various parameters on the pharmacokinetics and efficacy of in vivo expressed DNA-based anti-HER2 monoclonal antibodies (mAbs), newly engineered and delivered via intramuscular electrotransfer in mice. Plasma concentrations of trastuzumab and 4D5, its murine IgG1 equivalent, peaked on average between 1–15 μg/ml, depending on the administration and configuration of the encoding plasmid DNA (pDNA). A dual expression cassette system outperformed a single 2A-based cassette, and the CAG promoter was superior to a muscle-specific ΔUSE-based promoter. A ‘gene therapy-compatible’ Gene Transport Unit (gtGTU, FIT Biotech), a plasmid backbone that co-encodes viral elements, failed to improve in vivo reporter and mAb expression compared to a conventional plasmid. In BALB/c mice, trastuzumab detection was lost within two weeks after pDNA administration due to anti-drug antibodies. This host immune response was addressed by expressing trastuzumab in immune-compromised mice, or by gene transfer of murine 4D5 in BALB/c mice. Both approaches maintained single-digit μg/ml mAb concentrations for at least six to nine months, and allowed to boost mAb expression over time by pDNA re-dosing. In a breast cancer mouse model, prophylactic and therapeutic DNA-based trastuzumab or 4D5 led to complete tumor regressions, thereby rivalling with the administration of milligrams of mAb protein. In conclusion, our study demonstrates proof of concept for antibody gene transfer in cancer, provides critical insights in the engineering and application of DNA-based antibodies, and serves to advance this modality in oncology and beyond.

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