Research Papers:

Concurrent, but not sequential, PD-1 blockade with a DNA vaccine elicits anti-tumor responses in patients with metastatic, castration-resistant prostate cancer

Douglas G. McNeel _, Jens C. Eickhoff, Ellen Wargowski, Christopher Zahm, Mary Jane Staab, Jane Straus and Glenn Liu

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Oncotarget. 2018; 9:25586-25596. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.25387

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Douglas G. McNeel1,2, Jens C. Eickhoff1,2, Ellen Wargowski1, Christopher Zahm1, Mary Jane Staab1, Jane Straus1 and Glenn Liu1

1University of Wisconsin Carbone Comprehensive Cancer Center, Madison, WI 53705, USA

2Department of Biostatistics, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53792, USA

Correspondence to:

Douglas G. McNeel, email: [email protected]

Keywords: DNA vaccine; prostate cancer; prostatic acid phosphatase; pembrolizumab; PD-1

Received: March 26, 2018     Accepted: April 26, 2018     Published: May 22, 2018


T-cell checkpoint inhibitors have demonstrated dramatic clinical activity against multiple cancer types, however little activity in patients with prostate cancer. Conversely, an anti-tumor vaccine was approved for the treatment of prostate cancer, having demonstrated an improvement in overall survival, despite few objective disease responses. In murine studies, we found that PD-1 expression on CD8+ T cells increased following anti-tumor vaccination, and that PD-1/PD-L1 blockade at the time of immunization elicited greater anti-tumor responses. Based on these data we initiated a pilot trial evaluating the immunological and clinical efficacy of a DNA encoding prostatic acid phosphatase (PAP) when delivered in combination with pembrolizumab. 26 patients were treated for 12 weeks with vaccine and received pembrolizumab either during this time or during the subsequent 12 weeks. Adverse events included grade 2 and 3 fatigue, diarrhea, thyroid dysfunction, and hepatitis. Median time to radiographic progression was not different between study arms. 8/13 (62%) of patients treated concurrently, and 1/12 (8%, p=0.01) of patients treated sequentially, experienced PSA declines from baseline. Of these, two were over 50% and one was a complete PSA response. No confirmed CR or PR were observed, however 4/5 patients treated concurrently had measurable decreases in tumor volume at 12 weeks. PSA declines were associated with the development of PAP-specific Th1-biased T cell immunity and CD8+ T cell infiltration in metastatic tumor biopsy specimens. These data are the first report of a clinical trial demonstrating that the efficacy of an anti-tumor vaccine can be augmented by concurrent PD-1 blockade.

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