Background: Combination immunotherapy has the potential to achieve additive or synergistic effects. Combined local injections of dsRNA analogues (mimicking viral RNA) and repeated vaccinations with tumor-lysate loaded dendritic cells shows efficacy against colon cancer mouse models. In the context of immunotherapy, radiotherapy can exert beneficial abscopal effects.
Patients and methods: In this two-cohort pilot phase I study, 15 advanced cancer patients received two 4-week cycles of four intradermal daily doses of monocyte-derived dendritic cells preloaded with autologous tumor lysate and matured for 24 h with poly-ICLC (Hiltonol), TNF-alpha and IFN-alpha. On days +8 and +10 of each cycle, patients received intratumoral image-guided 0.25mg injections of the dsRNA-analogue Hiltonol. Cyclophosphamide 600 mg/m(2) was administered 1 week before. Six patients received stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) on selected tumor lesions, including those injected with Hiltonol. Expression of 25 immune-relevant genes was sequentially monitored by RT-PCR on circulating peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMCs) and serum concentrations of a cytokine panel were sequentially determined before and during treatment. Pre-and posttreatment PBMC from patients achieving durable stable disease (SD) were studied by IFNc ELISPOT-assays responding to tumor-lysate loaded DC and by TCR beta sequencing.
Results: Combined treatment was, safe and well tolerated. One heavily pretreated castration-resistant prostate cancer patient experienced a remarkable mixed abscopal response to SABR+ immunotherapy. No objective responses were observed, while nine patients presented SD (five of them in the six-patient radiotherapy cohort). Intratumoral Hiltonol increased IFN-beta and IFN-alpha mRNA in circulating PBMC. DC vaccination increased serum IL-12 and IL-1 beta concentrations, especially in patients presenting SD. IFNc-ELISPOT reactivity to tumor lysates was observed in two patients experiencing durable SD.
Conclusions: This radio-immunotherapy combination strategy, aimed at resembling viral infection in tumor tissue in combination with a dendritic-cell vaccine and SABR, is safe and shows immune-associated activity and signs of preliminary clinical efficacy.