Sunitinib depletes myeloid-derived suppressor cells and synergizes with a cancer vaccine to enhance antigen-specific immune responses and tumor eradication.

PMID 25949902


The high efficacy of therapeutic cancer vaccines in preclinical studies has yet to be fully achieved in clinical trials. Tumor immune suppression is a critical factor that hampers the desired antitumor effect. Here, we analyzed the combined effect of a cancer vaccine and the receptor tyrosine kinase inhibitor sunitinib. Sunitinib was administered intraperitoneally, alone or in combination with intramuscular immunization using a viral vector based cancer vaccine composed of Semliki Forest virus replicon particles and encoding the oncoproteins E6 and E7 (SFVeE6,7) of human papilloma virus (HPV). We first demonstrated that treatment of tumor-bearing mice with sunitinib alone dose-dependently depleted myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) in the tumor, spleen and in circulation. Concomitantly, the number of CD8(+) T cells increased 2-fold and, on the basis of CD69 expression, their activation status was greatly enhanced. The intrinsic immunosuppressive activity of residual MDSCs after sunitinib treatment was not changed in a dose-dependent fashion. We next combined sunitinib treatment with SFVeE6,7 immunization. This combined treatment resulted in a 1.5- and 3-fold increase of E7-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) present within the circulation and tumor, respectively, as compared to immunization only. The ratio of E7-specific CTLs to MDSCs in blood thereby increased 10- to 20-fold and in tumors up to 12.5-fold. As a result, the combined treatment strongly enhanced the antitumor effect of the cancer vaccine. This study demonstrates that sunitinib creates a favorable microenvironment depleted of MDSCs and acts synergistically with a cancer vaccine resulting in enhanced levels of active tumor-antigen specific CTLs, thus changing the balance in favor of antitumor immunity.