Creating MHC-restricted neoantigens with covalent inhibitors that can be targeted by immune therapy

Intracellular oncoproteins can be inhibited with targeted therapy, but responses are not durable. Immune therapies can be curative, but most oncogene-driven tumors are unresponsive to these agents. Fragments of intracellular oncoproteins can act as neoantigens presented by the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) but recognizing minimal differences between oncoproteins and their normal counterparts is challenging. We have established a platform technology that exploits hapten-peptide conjugates generated by covalent inhibitors to create distinct neoantigens that selectively mark cancer cells. Using the FDA-approved covalent inhibitors sotorasib and osimertinib, we developed “HapImmuneTM” antibodies that bind to drug-peptide conjugate/MHC complexes but not to the free drugs. A HapImmuneTM-based bispecific T cell engager selectively and potently kills sotorasib-resistant lung cancer cells upon sotorasib treatment. Notably, it is effective against KRASG12C mutant cells with different HLA supertypes, HLA-A*02 and A*03/11, suggesting loosening of MHC restriction. Our strategy creates targetable neoantigens by design, unifying targeted and immune therapies.

Cancer Discov CD-22-1074


Ontogeny and Vulnerabilities of Drug-Tolerant Persisters in HER2+ Breast Cancer


Resistance to targeted therapies is an important clinical problem in HER2-positive (HER2+) breast cancer. “Drug-tolerant persisters” (DTP), a subpopulation of cancer cells that survive via reversible, nongenetic mechanisms, are implicated in resistance to tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKI) in other malignancies, but DTPs following HER2 TKI exposure have not been well characterized. We found that HER2 TKIs evoke DTPs with a luminal-like or a mesenchymal-like transcriptome. Lentiviral barcoding/single-cell RNA sequencing reveals that HER2+ breast cancer cells cycle stochastically through a “pre-DTP” state, characterized by a G0-like expression signature and enriched for diapause and/or senescence genes. Trajectory analysis/cell sorting shows that pre-DTPs preferentially yield DTPs upon HER2 TKI exposure. Cells with similar transcriptomes are present in HER2+ breast tumors and are associated with poor TKI response. Finally, biochemical experiments indicate that luminal-like DTPs survive via estrogen receptor-dependent induction of SGK3, leading to rewiring of the PI3K/AKT/mTORC1 pathway to enable AKT-independent mTORC1 activation.


DTPs are implicated in resistance to anticancer therapies, but their ontogeny and vulnerabilities remain unclear. We find that HER2 TKI-DTPs emerge from stochastically arising primed cells (“pre-DTPs”) that engage either of two distinct transcriptional programs upon TKI exposure. Our results provide new insights into DTP ontogeny and potential therapeutic vulnerabilities. This article is highlighted in the In This Issue feature, p. 873.


Combined Inhibition of SHP2 and CXCR1/2 Promotes Anti-Tumor T Cell Response in NSCLC


Clinical trials of SHP2 inhibitors (SHP2i) alone and in various combinations are ongoing for multiple tumors with over-activation of the RAS/ERK pathway. SHP2 plays critical roles in normal cell signaling; hence, SHP2is could influence the tumor microenvironment. We found that SHP2i treatment depleted alveolar and M2-like macrophages and promoted B and T lymphocyte infiltration in Kras- and Egfr-mutant non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). However, treatment also increased intratumor gMDSCs via tumor-intrinsic, NF-kB-dependent production of CXCR2 ligands. Other RAS/ERK pathway inhibitors also induced CXCR2 ligands and gMDSC influx in mice, and CXCR2 ligands were induced in tumors from patients on KRASG12C-inhibitor trials. Combined SHP2(SHP099)/CXCR1/2(SX682) inhibition depleted a specific cluster of S100a8/9high gMDSCs, generated Klrg1+ CD8+ effector T cells with a strong cytotoxic phenotype but expressing the checkpoint receptor NKG2A, and enhanced survival in Kras-and Egfr-mutant models. Our results argue for testing RAS/ERK pathway/CXCR1/2/NKG2A inhibitor combinations in NSCLC patients.


Our study shows that inhibiting the SHP2/RAS/ERK pathway triggers NF-kB-dependent up-regulation of CXCR2 ligands and recruitment of S100A8high gMDSCs, which suppress T cells in NSCLC. Combining SHP2 and CXCR2 inhibitors blocks this gMDSC immigration, resulting in enhanced Th1 polarization, induction of CD8+ KLRG1+ effector T cells with high cytotoxic activity and improved survival in multiple NSCLC models.

SHP2 Inhibition Abrogates Adaptive Resistance to KRASG12C-Inhibition and Remodels the Tumor Microenvironment of KRAS-Mutant Tumors


KRAS is the most frequently mutated oncogene in human cancer, and KRAS inhibition has been a longtime therapeutic goal. Recently, inhibitors (G12C-Is) that bind KRASG12C-GDP and react with Cys-12 were developed. Using new affinity reagents to monitor KRASG12C activation and inhibitor engagement, we found that, reflecting its action upstream of SOS1/2, SHP2 inhibitors (SHP2-Is) increased KRAS-GDP occupancy, enhancing G12C-I efficacy. SHP2-Is abrogated feedback signaling by multiple RTKs and blocked adaptive resistance to G12C-Is in vitro, in xenografts, and in syngeneic KRASG12Cmutant pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) and non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) models. Biochemical analysis revealed enhanced suppression of ERK-, MYC-, anti-apoptotic-, and cell-cycle genes, and increased pro-apoptotic gene expression in tumors from combination-treated mice. SHP2-I/G12C-I also evoked favorable changes in the immune microenvironment, decreasing myeloid suppressor cells, increasing CD8+ T cells, and sensitizing tumors to PD-1 blockade. Experiments using cells expressing inhibitor-resistant SHP2 showed that SHP2 inhibition in PDAC cells is required for tumor regression and remodeling of the immune microenvironment, but also revealed direct inhibitory effects on angiogenesis resulting in decreased tumor vascularity. Our results demonstrate that SHP2-I/G12C-I combinations confer a substantial survival benefit in PDAC and NSCLC and identify additional combination strategies for enhancing the efficacy of G12C-Is.

[preprint posted on bioRxiv 2020 May 31]

Genetically Defined, Syngeneic Organoid Platform for Developing Combination Therapies for Ovarian Cancer


The paucity of genetically informed, immune-competent tumor models impedes evaluation of conventional, targeted, and immune therapies. By engineering mouse fallopian tube (FT) organoids using lentiviral gene transduction and/or CRISPR/Cas9 mutagenesis, we generated multiple high grade serous ovarian carcinoma (HGSOC) models exhibiting mutational combinations seen in patients. Detailed analysis of homologous recombination (HR)-proficient (Tp53-/-;Ccne1OE;Akt2OE; KrasOE), HR-deficient (Tp53-/-;Brca1-/-;MycOE) and unclassified (Tp53-/-;Pten-/-;Nf1-/-) organoids revealed differences in in vitro properties and tumorigenicity. Tumorigenic organoids had variable sensitivity to HGSOC chemotherapeutics and evoked distinct immune microenvironments. These findings enabled development of a chemotherapy/immunotherapy regimen that yielded durable, T-cell dependent responses in Tp53-/-;Ccne1OE;Akt2OE;Kras HGSOC; by contrast, Tp53-/-;Pten-/-;Nf1-/- tumors failed to respond. Genotype-informed, syngeneic organoid models could provide an improved platform for rapid evaluation of tumor biology and therapeutics.


  • Orthotopic injection of genetically defined fallopian tube organoids yield HGSOC.
  • Ovarian tumors with different genotypes evoke distinct immune microenvironments
  • Combining Gemcitabine, anti-PD-L1, and anti-CTLA-4 result in complete responses in Tp53-/-;Ccne1OE;Akt2OE;KrasOE organoid-derived HGSOC
  • Therapeutic response is tumor genotype-specific

Genetically Defined, Syngeneic Organoid Platform for Developing Combination Therapies for Ovarian Cancer
[preprint posted on bioRxiv 2020 Apr 07]

Both fallopian tube and ovarian surface epithelium are cells-of-origin for high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma

The cell-of-origin of high grade serous ovarian carcinoma (HGSOC) remains controversial, with fallopian tube epithelium (FTE) and ovarian surface epithelium (OSE) both considered candidates. Here, by using genetically engineered mouse models and organoids, we assessed the tumor-forming properties of FTE and OSE harboring the same oncogenic abnormalities. Combined RB family inactivation and Tp53 mutation in Pax8+ FTE caused Serous Tubal Intraepithelial Carcinoma (STIC), which metastasized rapidly to the ovarian surface. These events were recapitulated by orthotopic injection of mutant FTE organoids. Engineering the same genetic lesions into Lgr5+ OSE or OSE-derived organoids also caused metastatic HGSOC, although with longer latency and lower penetrance. FTE- and OSE-derived tumors had distinct transcriptomes, and comparative transcriptomics and genomics suggest that human HGSOC arises from both cell types. Finally, FTE- and OSE-derived organoids exhibited differential chemosensitivity. Our results comport with a dualistic origin for HGSOC and suggest that the cell-of-origin might influence therapeutic response.

Both fallopian tube and ovarian surface epithelium are cells-of-origin for high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma Nat Commun 10, 5367 (2019)