Therapeutic benefit to immune checkpoint blockade (ICB) is currently limited to the subset of cancers thought to possess a sufficient tumor mutational burden (TMB) to allow for the spontaneous recognition of neoantigens (NeoAg) by autologous T cells. We explored whether the response to ICB of an aggressive low-TMB squamous cell tumor could be improved through combination immunotherapy using functionally defined NeoAg as targets for endogenous CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. We found that, whereas vaccination with CD4+ or CD8+ NeoAg alone did not offer prophylactic or therapeutic immunity, vaccines containing NeoAg recognized by both subsets overcame ICB resistance and led to the eradication of large established tumors that contained a subset of PD-L1+ tumor-initiating cancer stem cells (tCSC), provided the relevant epitopes were physically linked. Therapeutic CD4+/CD8+ T cell NeoAg vaccination produced a modified tumor microenvironment (TME) with increased numbers of NeoAg-specific CD8+ T cells existing in progenitor and intermediate exhausted states enabled by combination ICB-mediated intermolecular epitope spreading. We believe that the concepts explored herein should be exploited for the development of more potent personalized cancer vaccines that can expand the range of tumors treatable with ICB.
Joseph S. Dolina, Joey Lee, Spencer E. Brightman, Sara McArdle, Samantha M. Hall, Rukman R. Thota, Karla S. Zavala, Manasa Lanka, Ashmitaa Logandha Ramamoorthy Premlal, Jason A. Greenbaum, Ezra E. W. Cohen, Bjoern Peters, Stephen P. Schoenberger