Synthetic cancer vaccines: A number of fully synthetic vaccine candidates have been designed, chemically synthesized, and immunologically evaluated to establish a strategy to overcome the poor immunogenicity of tumor-associated carbohydrates and glycopeptides and to determine the importance of Toll-like receptor (TLR) engagement for antigenic responses against these compounds.
Epithelial cancer cells often overexpress mucins that are aberrantly glycosylated. Although it has been realized that these compounds offer exciting opportunities for the development of immunotherapy for cancer, their use is hampered by the low antigenicity of classical immunogens composed of a glycopeptide derived from a mucin conjugated to a foreign carrier protein. We have designed, chemically synthesized, and immunologically evaluated a number of fully synthetic vaccine candidates to establish a strategy to overcome the poor immunogenicity of tumor-associated carbohydrates and glycopeptides. The compounds were also designed to allow study of the importance of Toll-like receptor (TLR) engagement for these antigenic responses in detail. We have found that covalent attachment of a TLR2 agonist, a promiscuous peptide T-helper epitope, and a tumor-associated glycopeptide gives a compound (1) that elicits in mice exceptionally high titers of IgG antibodies that recognize MCF7 cancer cells expressing the tumor-associated carbohydrate. Immunizations with glycolipopeptide 2, which contains lipidated amino acids instead of a TLR2 ligand, gave significantly lower titers of IgG antibodies; this demonstrates that TLR engagement is critical for optimum antigenic responses. Although mixtures of compound 2 with Pam3CysSK4 (3) or monophosphoryl lipid A (4) elicited titers of IgG antibodies similar to those seen with 1, the resulting antisera had impaired ability to recognize cancer cells. It was also found that covalent linkage of the helper T-epitope to the B-epitope is essential, probably because internalization of the helper T-epitope by B-cells requires assistance of the B-epitope. The results presented here show that synthetic vaccine development is amenable to structure–activity relationship studies for successful optimization of carbohydrate-based cancer vaccines.