Specific Aims: Hepatocellular cancer (HCC) is a major cause of cancer death globally, and there are no effective systemic therapies for this disease. Previously, we made the novel observation that alpha fetoprotein (AFP) can be recognized by human and murine immune systems. In a murine tumor model, the self-antigen murine AFP can serve as a tumor rejection antigen. We have performed extensive CD8 T cell epitope mapping and identified several immunodominant and subdominant AFP-derived peptides. In a pilot clinical trial, we immunized AFP+/HLA-A* 0201+ HCC patients with the four immunodominant peptides emulsified in adjuvant. These patients were able to respond immunologically by increasing the frequency of AFP-specific T cells in the peripheral blood. We have also tested a DNA prime-adenovirus boost genetic immunization strategy in murine models and found it can approach the levels of immune activation of AFP genetically engineered dendritic cells. In this application, we propose to test this genetic immunization strategy in a phase I/II clinical trial and examine the immunological responses and mechanism. We propose a clinical genetic immunotherapy study with two specific aims.
Specific Aim 1 : Immune Responses Generated By An AFP Prime-Boost Vaccine: We will immunize AFP+/HLA-A*0201+ HCC patients in the adjuvant setting with plasmids encoding AFP and GM-CSF then boost with an adenovirus (AdV) encoding AFP. In this aim, we will utilize state-of-the-art immunological assays to detect responses in peripheral blood. By immunizing with the entire 1.8 kb gene, we will stimulate a broad response encompassing CD8+ T cells specific for immunodominant and subdominant epitopes, as well as AFP-specific CD4+ T cells. We will analyze these cells with respect to their frequency, cytokine production, avidity and proliferation. This will indicate not only whether patients have been successfully immunized, but also allow for a thorough immunological assessment of this genetic immunization strategy in human subjects.
Specific Aim 2 : Immunological Mechanisms Governing Plasmid Prime/Adenovirus Boost Genetic lmmunotherapy: To elucidate the mechanism by which injection of plasmid DNA followed by injection of AdV generates T cell responses in human subjects, we will analyze biopsies of AFP vector-injected and control saline injected intradermal sites as well as draining and contralateral lymph nodes. We hypothesize that the immunizing antigen (AFP) is cross-presented as protein to professional antigen presenting cells (APC) at the vaccine depot which then traffic to draining lymph nodes to interact with T cells. We will test this hypothesis by analyzing draining sentinel lymph nodes and evaluating dendritic cells for vector sequences and their ability to stimulate AFP-specific T cell responses. These proposed studies will permit us to determine the immunological impact of a plasmid prime-adenoviral boost directed towards a self tumor antigen and to define mechanisms of antigen presentation.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Cancer Institute (NCI)
Research Project (R01)
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Clinical Oncology Study Section (CONC)
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Xie, Heng
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University of Pittsburgh
Internal Medicine/Medicine
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Butterfield, Lisa H (2016) Lessons learned from cancer vaccine trials and target antigen choice. Cancer Immunol Immunother 65:805-12
Butterfield, Lisa H; Economou, James S; Gamblin, T Clark et al. (2014) Alpha fetoprotein DNA prime and adenovirus boost immunization of two hepatocellular cancer patients. J Transl Med 12:86
Bray, Sarah M; Vujanovic, Lazar; Butterfield, Lisa H (2011) Dendritic cell-based vaccines positively impact natural killer and regulatory T cells in hepatocellular carcinoma patients. Clin Dev Immunol 2011:249281
Liu, Yang; Butterfield, Lisa H; Fu, Xiaohui et al. (2011) Lentivirally engineered dendritic cells activate AFP-specific T cells which inhibit hepatocellular carcinoma growth in vitro and in vivo. Int J Oncol 39:245-53
Butterfield, Lisa H; Palucka, A Karolina; Britten, Cedrik M et al. (2011) Recommendations from the iSBTc-SITC/FDA/NCI Workshop on Immunotherapy Biomarkers. Clin Cancer Res 17:3064-76
Vujanovic, Lazar; Szymkowski, David E; Alber, Sean et al. (2010) Virally infected and matured human dendritic cells activate natural killer cells via cooperative activity of plasma membrane-bound TNF and IL-15. Blood 116:575-83
Evdokimova, Viktoria N; Butterfield, Lisa H (2008) Alpha-fetoprotein and other tumour-associated antigens for immunotherapy of hepatocellular cancer. Expert Opin Biol Ther 8:325-36
Butterfield, Lisa H (2007) Recent advances in immunotherapy for hepatocellular cancer. Swiss Med Wkly 137:83-90
Meng, Wilson S; Butterfield, Lisa H (2005) Activation of antigen-presenting cells by DNA delivery vectors. Expert Opin Biol Ther 5:1019-28
Butterfield, Lisa H (2004) Immunotherapeutic strategies for hepatocellular carcinoma. Gastroenterology 127:S232-41