Publication - Summary
January 14, 2019
Researchers from Holger J. Møller's group at Aarhus University in Denmark have published an approach to a cancer immunotherapy that involves altering the function of tumour associated macrophages (TAMs) to fight cancer. TAMs can take on two main phenotypes: the tumour-helping phenotype, called the M2-like phenotype or the tumour fighting phenotype, called M1-like. More specifically, they produced an anti-body targeted liposome containing a small molecule known to promote the M1-like tumoricidal phenotype by inhibiting STAT3 activation. STAT3 is known to be connected to a range of tumour associated activity such as proliferation, angiogenesis and metastasis. It is also involved in immune response in the tumour environment and this involvement has made STAT3 an important signalling network to target in cancer immunotherapy.
Tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs) are of major importance in cancer-related immune suppression, and tumor infiltration by CD163pos TAMs is associated with poor outcome in most human cancers. Therefore, therapeutic strategies for reprogramming TAMs from a tumor-supporting (M2-like) phenotype towards a tumoricidal (M1-like) phenotype are of great interest. Activation of the transcription factor STAT3 within the tumor microenvironment is associated with worse prognosis, and STAT3 activation promotes the immunosuppressive phenotype of TAMs. Therefore, we aimed to develop a drug for inhibition of STAT3 specifically within human TAMs by targeting the endocytic CD163 scavenger receptor, which is highly expressed on TAMs. Here, we report the first data on a CD163-targeted STAT3-inhibitory drug consisting of corosolic acid (CA) packaged within long-circulating liposomes (LCLs), which are CD163-targeted by modification with monoclonal anti-CD163 antibodies (αCD163)—CA-LCL-αCD163. We show, that activation of STAT3 (by phosphorylation) was inhibited by CA-LCL-αCD163 specifically within CD163pos cells, with minor effect on CD163neg cells. Furthermore, CA-LCL-αCD163 inhibited STAT3-regulated gene expression of IL-10, and increased expression of TNFα, thus indicating a pro-inflammatory effect of the drug on human macrophages. This M1-like reprogramming at the mRNA level was confirmed by significantly elevated levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (IFNγ, IL-12, TNFα, IL-2) in the culture medium. Since liposomes are attractive vehicles for novel anti-cancer drugs, and since direct TAM-targeting may decrease adverse effects of systemic inhibition of STAT3, the present results encourage future investigation of CA-LCL-αCD163 in the in vivo setting.