Small molecule immunomodulation: the tumor microenvironment and overcoming immune escape.
ABSTRACT: Immunotherapy has led to a paradigm shift in the treatment of many advanced malignancies. Despite the success in treatment of tumors like non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) and melanoma, checkpoint inhibition-based immunotherapy has limitations. Many tumors, such as pancreatic cancer, are less responsive to checkpoint inhibitors, where patients tend to have a limited duration of benefit and where clinical responses are more robust in patients who are positive for predictive biomarkers. One of the critical factors that influence the efficacy of immunotherapy is the tumor microenvironment (TME), which contains a heterogeneous composition of immunosuppressive cells. Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) and tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) alter the immune landscape of the TME and serve as facilitators of tumor proliferation, metastatic growth and immunotherapy resistance. Small molecule inhibitors that target these components of the TME have been developed. This special issue review focuses on two promising classes of immunomodulatory small molecule inhibitors: colony stimulating factor-1 receptor (CSF-1R) and focal adhesion kinase (FAK). Small molecule inhibitors of CSF-1R reprogram the TME and TAMs, and lead to enhanced T-cell-mediated tumor eradication. FAK small molecule inhibitors decrease the infiltration MDSCs, TAMs and regulatory T-cells. Additionally, FAK inhibitors are implicated as modulators of stromal density and cancer stem cells, leading to a TME more conducive to an anti-tumor immune response. Immunomodulatory small molecule inhibitors present a unique opportunity to attenuate immune escape of tumors and potentiate the effectiveness of immunotherapy and traditional cytotoxic therapy.
Project description:Myeloid cells comprise a major component of the tumor microenvironment (TME) that promotes tumor growth and immune evasion. By employing a small-molecule inhibitor of glutamine metabolism, not only were we able to inhibit tumor growth, but we markedly inhibited the generation and recruitment of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs). Targeting tumor glutamine metabolism led to a decrease in CSF3 and hence recruitment of MDSCs as well as immunogenic cell death, leading to an increase in inflammatory tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs). Alternatively, inhibiting glutamine metabolism of the MDSCs themselves led to activation-induced cell death and conversion of MDSCs to inflammatory macrophages. Surprisingly, blocking glutamine metabolism also inhibited IDO expression of both the tumor and myeloid-derived cells, leading to a marked decrease in kynurenine levels. This in turn inhibited the development of metastasis and further enhanced antitumor immunity. Indeed, targeting glutamine metabolism rendered checkpoint blockade-resistant tumors susceptible to immunotherapy. Overall, our studies define an intimate interplay between the unique metabolism of tumors and the metabolism of suppressive immune cells.
Project description:Hypoxia leads to up-regulation of PD-L1 and decreases T lymphocyte infiltration, thus boosting immunotherapeutic resistance of tumors. Moreover, tumor-infiltrating myeloid cells such as myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) correlate with potent immune suppressive activity and resistance to the immune checkpoint blocking (ICB) in tumor sites. Here, a multifunctional nanoregulator incorporating MnO2 particles and small molecular IPI549 is developed, which can reshape the tumor immune microenvironment (TIME) to unleash the immune system. The intravenously administered nanoregulator effectively accumulates in tumor sites to alleviate hypoxia via oxygen-generating reduction of MnO2 and to inhibit PI3K? on MDSCs via IPI549 release in the tumor microenvironment (TME), which results in concurrent downregulation of PD-L1 expression, polarization of tumor associated macrophages (TAMs) toward pro-inflammatory M1-like phenotype (tumor-suppressive), enhanced infiltration of CD4+ helper T lymphocytes (Th cells), and cytotoxic CD8+ T lymphocytes (Tc cells), and suppressed infiltration of regulatory T lymphocytes (Treg cells) for effective tumor immunotherapy. Furthermore, the local generation of Mn2+ in TME allows tumor-specific magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). More excitingly, the nanoregulator-reshaped TIME is effectively reserved due to the synergistic effect of hypoxia alleviation and MDSC PI3K? inhibition, leading to remarkable post-medication inhibition of tumor re-growth and metastasis in an animal study.
Project description:Focal adhesion kinase (FAK) is an integrin-associated protein tyrosine kinase that is frequently overexpressed in advanced human cancers. Recent studies have demonstrated that aside from FAK's catalytic activity in cancer cells, its cellular localization is also critical for regulating the transcription of chemokines that promote a favorable tumor microenvironment (TME) by suppressing destructive host immunity. In addition to the protumor roles of FAK in cancer cells, FAK activity within cells of the TME may also support tumor growth and metastasis through various mechanisms, including increased angiogenesis and vascular permeability and effects related to fibrosis in the stroma. Small molecule FAK inhibitors have demonstrated efficacy in alleviating tumor growth and metastasis, and some are currently in clinical development phases. However, several preclinical trials have shown increased benefits from dual therapies using FAK inhibitors in combination with other chemotherapies or with immune cell activators. This review will discuss the role of nuclear FAK as a driver for tumor cell survival as well as potential therapeutic strategies to target FAK in both tumors and the TME.
Project description:Immune suppression in the tumor microenvironment (TME) is a central obstacle to effective immunotherapy. Tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) are key components of the TME. Although TAMs have been viewed as an ideal target of intervention to steer immunity in cancer treatment, the approach has been hampered by the lack of knowledge of how TAM plasticity is controlled by cell intrinsic factors. VentX is a homeobox protein implicated in proliferation and differentiation of human hematopoietic and immune cells. Using clinical samples obtained from cancer patients, we find that VentX expression is drastically reduced in TAMs. We show here that VentX promotes M1 differentiation of TAMs, and that VentX-regulated TAMs, in turn, revert immune suppression at the TME. Using a NSG mouse model of human colon cancers, we demonstrate that VentX regulates TAM function in tumorigenesis in vivo. Our findings suggest a mechanism underlying immune suppression at TME and potential applications of VentX-regulated TAMs in cancer immunotherapy.
Project description:The immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment is a key obstacle to hinder a cancer immunotherapy. Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) have been considered as a major player in immunosuppression. In this study, we find that tumor-infiltrating MDSCs (tiMDSCs) are less immunosuppressive than tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) in multiple murine orthotopic breast tumor models. Compared to TAMs, tiMDSCs produce higher levels of pro-inflammatory factors and lower levels of anti-inflammatory factors. Furthermore, tiMDSCs are preferentially located in hypoxic areas and are more pro-angiogenic than TAMs. Consistent with these functional disparities, a shift from tiMDSCs to TAMs is observed during the progression of breast cancer. Moreover, infiltration of tiMDSCs is also noted in distal colonization of breast cancer cells in the lung. Taken together, our findings indicate that tiMDSCs are more pro-angiogenic and promote tumor initiation, while TAMs are more immunosuppressive and facilitate tumor immune evasion. This study suggests that selectively targeting on TAMs could alleviate the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment and potentiate cancer immunotherapy.
Project description:Immunotherapeutics represent highly promising agents with the potential to improve patient outcomes in a variety of cancer types. Unfortunately, single-agent immunotherapy has achieved limited clinical benefit to date in patients suffering from pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). This may be due to the presence of a uniquely immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment (TME) present in PDACs, which creates a barrier to effective immune surveillance. Critical obstacles to immunotherapy in PDAC tumors include the dense desmoplastic stroma that acts as a barrier to T-cell infiltration and the high numbers of tumor-associated immunosuppressive cells. We have identified hyperactivated focal adhesion kinase (FAK) activity in neoplastic PDAC cells as a significant regulator of the fibrotic and immunosuppressive TME. We found that FAK activity was elevated in human PDAC tissues and correlates with high levels of fibrosis and poor CD8+ cytotoxic T-cell infiltration. Single-agent FAK inhibition (VS-4718) dramatically limited tumor progression, resulting in a doubling of survival in the p48-Cre/LSL-KrasG12D/p53Flox/+ (KPC) mouse model of human PDAC. This alteration in tumor progression was associated with dramatically reduced tumor fibrosis, decreased numbers of tumor-infiltrating immature myeloid cells and immunosuppressive macrophages. We postulated that these desirable effects of FAK inhibition on the TME might render PDAC tumors more sensitive to immunotherapy. Accordingly, we found that VS-4718 rendered the previously unresponsive KPC mouse model responsive to anti-PD1 and anti-CTLA4 antagonists leading to a nearly tripling of survival times. These data suggest that FAK inhibition increases immune surveillance by overcoming the fibrotic and immunosuppressive PDAC TME thus rendering tumors more responsive to immunotherapy. We treated KP orthotopic tumor-bearing mice with vehicle and FAK inhibitor (FAKi) for 14 days, then extracted total RNA from tumor tissues.
Project description:This study investigated the effects on the tumor microenvironment (TME) of combining antiangiogenic tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) with therapeutic vaccines, and in particular, how vascular changes affect tumor-infiltrating immune cells. We conducted studies using a TKI (sunitinib or sorafenib) in combination with recombinant vaccines in two murine tumor models: colon carcinoma (MC38-CEA) and breast cancer (4T1). Tumor vasculature was measured by immunohistochemistry using three endothelial cell markers: CD31 (mature), CD105 (immature/proliferating), and CD11b (monocytic). We assessed oxygenation, tight junctions, compactness, and pressure within tumors, along with the frequency and phenotype of tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL), myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC), and tumor-associated macrophages (TAM) following treatment with antiangiogenic TKIs alone, vaccine alone, or the combination of a TKI with vaccine. The combined regimen decreased tumor vasculature, compactness, tight junctions, and pressure, leading to vascular normalization and increased tumor oxygenation. This combination therapy also increased TILs, including tumor antigen-specific CD8 T cells, and elevated the expression of activation markers FAS-L, CXCL-9, CD31, and CD105 in MDSCs and TAMs, leading to reduced tumor volumes and an increase in the number of tumor-free animals. The improved antitumor activity induced by combining antiangiogenic TKIs with vaccine may be the result of activated lymphoid and myeloid cells in the TME, resulting from vascular normalization, decreased tumor-cell density, and the consequent improvement in vascular perfusion and oxygenation. Therapies that alter tumor architecture can, thus, have a dramatic impact on the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapy.
Project description:FAK (focal adhesion kinase) and IGF-1R (insulin-like growth factor receptor-1) directly interact with each other and thereby activate crucial signaling pathways that benefit cancer cells. Inhibition of FAK and IGF-1R function has been shown to significantly decrease cancer cell proliferation and increase sensitivity to chemotherapy and radiation treatment. As a novel approach in human melanoma, we evaluated the effect of a small-molecule compound that disrupts the protein interaction of FAK and IGF-1R. Previously, using virtual screening and functional testing, we identified a lead compound (INT2-31) that targets the known FAK-IGF-1R protein interaction site. We studied the ability of this compound to disrupt FAK-IGF-1R protein interactions, inhibit downstream signaling, decrease human melanoma cell proliferation, alter cell cycle progression, induce apoptosis and decrease tumor growth in vivo. INT2-31 blocked the interaction of FAK and IGF-1R in vitro and in vivo in melanoma cells and tumor xenografts through precluding the activation of IRS-1, leading to reduced phosphorylation of AKT upon IGF-1 stimulation. As a result, INT2-31 significantly inhibited cell proliferation and viability (range 0.05-10 ?M). More importantly, 15 mg/kg of INT2-31 given for 21 d via intraperitoneal injection disrupted the interaction of FAK and IGF-1R and effectively decreased phosphorylation of tumor AKT, resulting in significant melanoma tumor regression in vivo. Our data suggest that the FAK-IGF-1R protein interaction is an important target, and disruption of this interaction with a novel small molecule (INT2-31) has potential anti-neoplastic therapeutic effects in human melanoma.
Project description:Single-agent immunotherapy has achieved limited clinical benefit to date in patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC). This may be a result of the presence of a uniquely immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment (TME). Critical obstacles to immunotherapy in PDAC tumors include a high number of tumor-associated immunosuppressive cells and a uniquely desmoplastic stroma that functions as a barrier to T cell infiltration. We identified hyperactivated focal adhesion kinase (FAK) activity in neoplastic PDAC cells as an important regulator of the fibrotic and immunosuppressive TME. We found that FAK activity was elevated in human PDAC tissues and correlated with high levels of fibrosis and poor CD8(+) cytotoxic T cell infiltration. Single-agent FAK inhibition using the selective FAK inhibitor VS-4718 substantially limited tumor progression, resulting in a doubling of survival in the p48-Cre;LSL-Kras(G12D);Trp53(flox/+) (KPC) mouse model of human PDAC. This delay in tumor progression was associated with markedly reduced tumor fibrosis and decreased numbers of tumor-infiltrating immunosuppressive cells. We also found that FAK inhibition rendered the previously unresponsive KPC mouse model responsive to T cell immunotherapy and PD-1 antagonists. These data suggest that FAK inhibition increases immune surveillance by overcoming the fibrotic and immunosuppressive PDAC TME and renders tumors responsive to immunotherapy.
Project description:Tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) are the most abundant population type of tumor-infiltrating immune cells found in the tumor microenvironment (TME), and are evolutionarily associated with microvessel density in tumor tissues. TAMs can be broadly divided into M1-like and M2-like TAMs, which demonstrate antitumor and pro-tumor activity in the TME, respectively. Studies have indicated that: i) The predominate presence of M2-like TAMs in the TME can result in tumor immunosuppression and chemoresistance; ii) the ratio of M1-like to M2-like TAMs in the TME is positively correlated with better long-term prognosis of patients with cancer; iii) epigenetic silencing, preventing the secretion of M1-like TAM-associated molecules, is an important immune evasion mechanism during tumor progression; and iv) the transformation from M2-like to M1-like TAMs following exposure to specific conditions can result in tumor regression. The present study discusses the molecular events underlying the recruitment of macrophages and their polarization into M1-like or M2-like TAMs, and their differential roles in angiogenesis, angiostasis, invasion, metastasis and immune activity in the TME. This insight may inform the improved design of TAM-targeted cancer immunotherapy. Some of these therapeutic strategies show promising effects; however, challenges remain.