The embryonic T-box transcription factor brachyury is aberrantly expressed in a range of human tumors. Previous studies have demonstrated that brachyury is a driver of the epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT), a process associated with cancer progression. Brachyury expression in human tumor cells enhances tumor invasiveness in vitro and metastasis in vivo, and induces resistance to various conventional therapeutics including chemotherapy and radiation. These characteristics, and the selective expression of brachyury for a range of human tumor types vs. normal adult tissues, make brachyury an attractive tumor target. Due to its intracellular localization and the "undruggable" character of transcription factors, available options to target brachyury are currently limited. Here we report on the development and characterization of an immunological platform for the efficient targeting of brachyury-positive tumors consisting of a heat-killed, recombinant Saccharomyces cerevisiae (yeast)-brachyury vector-based vaccine (designated as GI-6301) that expresses the full-length human brachyury protein. We demonstrate that human dendritic cells treated with recombinant yeast-brachyury can activate and expand brachyury-specific CD4 + and CD8 + T cells in vitro that, in turn, can effectively lyse human tumor cells expressing the brachyury protein. Vaccination of mice with recombinant yeast-brachyury is also shown here to elicit brachyury-specific CD4 + and CD8 + T-cell responses, and to induce anti-tumor immunity in the absence of toxicity. Based on these results, a Phase I clinical trial of GI-6301 is currently ongoing in patients with advanced tumors; to our knowledge, this is the first vaccine platform aimed at targeting a driver of tumor EMT that has successfully reached the clinical stage.
Hamilton, D. H., Litzinger, M. T., Jales, A., Huang, B., Fernando, R. I., Hodge, J. W., … Palena, C. (2013). Immunological targeting of tumor cells undergoing an epithelial-mesenchymal transition via a recombinant brachyury-yeast vaccine. Oncotarget, 4(10). https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.1295