Scientific excellence is not an end in itself, but is a crucial tool for efficient translation of new ideas into viable solutions.



Vogel AB, Lambert L, Kinnear E, Busse D, Erbar S, Reuter KC, Wicke L, Perkovic M, Beissert T, Haas H, Reece ST, Sahin U, Tregoning JS. (2017)

Self-Amplifying RNA Vaccines Give Equivalent Protection against Influenza to mRNA Vaccines but at Much Lower Doses.

Mol Ther. 2017 Dec 5. pii: S1525-0016(17)30594-4.

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New vaccine platforms are needed to address the time gap between pathogen emergence and vaccine licensure. RNA-based vaccines are an attractive candidate for this role: they are safe, are produced cell free, and can be rapidly generated in response to pathogen emergence. Two RNA vaccine platforms are available: synthetic mRNA molecules encoding only the antigen of interest and self-amplifying RNA (sa-RNA). sa-RNA is virally derived and encodes both the antigen of interest and proteins enabling RNA vaccine replication. Both platforms have been shown to induce an immune response, but it is not clear which approach is optimal. In the current studies, we compared synthetic mRNA and sa-RNA expressing influenza virus hemagglutinin. Both platforms were protective, but equivalent levels of protection were achieved using 1.25 μg sa-RNA compared to 80 μg mRNA (64-fold less material). Having determined that sa-RNA was more effective than mRNA, we tested hemagglutinin from three strains of influenza H1N1, H3N2 (X31), and B (Massachusetts) as sa-RNA vaccines, and all protected against challenge infection. When sa-RNA was combined in a trivalent formulation, it protected against sequential H1N1 and H3N2 challenges. From this we conclude that sa-RNA is a promising platform for vaccines against viral diseases.

Sahu SK, Tiwari N, Pataskar A, Zhuang Y, Borisova M, Diken M, Strand S, Beli P, Tiwari VK. (2017)

FBXO32 promotes microenvironment underlying epithelial-mesenchymal transition via CtBP1 during tumour metastasis and brain development.

Nat Commun. 2017 Nov 15;8(1):1523.

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The set of events that convert adherent epithelial cells into migratory cells are collectively known as epithelial–mesenchymal transition (EMT). EMT is involved during development, for example, in triggering neural crest migration, and in pathogenesis such as metastasis. Here we discover FBXO32, an E3 ubiquitin ligase, to be critical for hallmark gene expression and phenotypic changes underlying EMT. Interestingly, FBXO32 directly ubiquitinates CtBP1, which is required for its stability and nuclear retention. This is essential for epigenetic remodeling and transcriptional induction of CtBP1 target genes, which create a suitable microenvironment for EMT progression. FBXO32 is also amplified in metastatic cancers and its depletion in a NSG mouse xenograft model inhibits tumor growth and metastasis. In addition, FBXO32 is essential for neuronal EMT during brain development. Together, these findings establish that FBXO32 acts as an upstream regulator of EMT by governing the gene expression program underlying this process during development and disease.

Kong SL, Liu X, Suhaimi NM, Koh KJH, Hu M, Lee DYS, Cima I, Phyo WM, Lee EXW, Tai JA, Foong YM, Vo JH, Koh PK, Zhang T, Ying JY, Lim B, Tan MH, Hillmer AM. (2017)

Molecular characterization of circulating colorectal tumor cells defines genetic signatures for individualized cancer care.

Oncotarget. 2017; 8:68026-68037.

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Studies on circulating tumor cells (CTCs) have largely focused on platform development and CTC enumeration rather than on the genomic characterization of CTCs. To address this, we performed targeted sequencing of CTCs of colorectal cancer patients and compared the mutations with the matched primary tumors. We collected preoperative blood and matched primary tumor samples from 48 colorectal cancer patients. CTCs were isolated using a label-free microfiltration device on a silicon microsieve. Upon whole genome amplification, we performed amplicon-based targeted sequencing on a panel of 39 druggable and frequently mutated genes on both CTCs and fresh-frozen tumor samples. We developed an analysis pipeline to minimize false-positive detection of somatic mutations in amplified DNA. In 60% of the CTC-enriched blood samples, we detected primary tumor matching mutations. We found a significant positive correlation between the allele frequencies of somatic mutations detected in CTCs and abnormal CEA serum level. Strikingly, we found driver mutations and amplifications in cancer and druggable genes such as APC, KRAS, TP53, ERBB3, FBXW7 and ERBB2. In addition, we found that CTCs carried mutation signatures that resembled the signatures of their primary tumors. Cumulatively, our study defined genetic signatures and somatic mutation frequency of colorectal CTCs. The identification of druggable mutations in CTCs of preoperative colorectal cancer patients could lead to more timely and focused therapeutic interventions.

Heilmann-Heimbach S, Herold C, Hochfeld LM, Hillmer AM, Nyholt DR, Hecker J, Javed A, Chew EG, Pechlivanis S, Drichel D, Heng XT, Del Rosario RC, Fier HL, Paus R, Rueedi R, Galesloot TE, Moebus S, Anhalt T, Prabhakar S, Li R, Kanoni S, Papanikolaou G, Kutalik Z, Deloukas P, Philpott MP, Waeber G, Spector TD, Vollenweider P, Kiemeney LA, Dedoussis G, Richards JB, Nothnagel M, Martin NG, Becker T, Hinds DA, Nöthen MM. (2017)

Meta-analysis identifies novel risk loci and yielads systemtic insights into the biology of male-pattern baldness.

Nat Commun. 2017 Mar 8;8:14694.

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Male-pattern baldness (MPB) is a common and highly heritable trait characterized by androgen-dependent, progressive hair loss from the scalp. Here, we carry out the largest GWAS meta-analysis of MPB to date, comprising 10,846 early-onset cases and 11,672 controls from eight independent cohorts. We identify 63 MPB-associated loci (P<5 × 10-8, METAL) of which 23 have not been reported previously. The 63 loci explain ∼39% of the phenotypic variance in MPB and highlight several plausible candidate genes (FGF5, IRF4, DKK2) and pathways (melatonin signalling, adipogenesis) that are likely to be implicated in the key-pathophysiological features of MPB and may represent promising targets for the development of novel therapeutic options. The data provide molecular evidence that rather than being an isolated trait, MPB shares a substantial biological basis with numerous other human phenotypes and may deserve evaluation as an early prognostic marker, for example, for prostate cancer, sudden cardiac arrest and neurodegenerative disorders.

Canli Ö, Nicolas AM, Gupta J, Finkelmeier F, Goncharova O, Pesic M, Neumann T, Horst D, Löwer M, Sahin U, Greten FR. (2017)

Myeloid Cell-Derived Reactive Oxygen Species Induce Epithelial Mutagenesis.

Cancer Cell. 2017. 32(6):869-883.

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Increased oxidative stress has been suggested to initiate and promote tumorigenesis by inducing DNA damage and to suppress tumor development by triggering apoptosis and senescence. The contribution of individual cell types in the tumor microenvironment to these contrasting effects remains poorly understood. We provide evidence that during intestinal tumorigenesis, myeloid cell-derived H2O2 triggers genome-wide DNA mutations in intestinal epithelial cells to stimulate invasive growth. Moreover, increased reactive oxygen species (ROS) production in myeloid cells initiates tumor growth in various organs also in the absence of a carcinogen challenge in a paracrine manner. Our data identify an intricate crosstalk between myeloid cell-derived ROS molecules, oxidative DNA damage, and tumor necrosis factor α-mediated signaling to orchestrate a tumor-promoting microenvironment causing invasive cancer.

Schulz H, Ruppert AK, Herms S, Wolf C, Mirza-Schreiber N, Stegle O, Czamara D, Forstner AJ, Sivalingam S, Schoch S, Moebus S, Pütz B, Hillmer A, Fricker N, Vatter H, Müller-Myhsok B, Nöthen MM, Becker AJ, Hoffmann P, Sander T, Cichon S. (2017)

Genome-wide mapping of genetic determinants influencing DNA methylation and gene expression in human hippocampus.

Nat Commun. 2017 Nov 15;8(1):1511.

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Emerging evidence emphasizes the strong impact of regulatory genomic elements in neurodevelopmental processes and the complex pathways of brain disorders. The present genome-wide quantitative trait loci analyses explore the cis-regulatory effects of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on DNA methylation (meQTL) and gene expression (eQTL) in 110 human hippocampal biopsies. We identify cis-meQTLs at 14,118 CpG methylation sites and cis-eQTLs for 302 3′-mRNA transcripts of 288 genes. Hippocampal cis-meQTL-CpGs are enriched in flanking regions of active promoters, CpG island shores, binding sites of the transcription factor CTCF and brain eQTLs. Cis-acting SNPs of hippocampal meQTLs and eQTLs significantly overlap schizophrenia-associated SNPs. Correlations of CpG methylation and RNA expression are found for 34 genes. Our comprehensive maps of cis-acting hippocampal meQTLs and eQTLs provide a link between disease-associated SNPs and the regulatory genome that will improve the functional interpretation of non-coding genetic variants in the molecular genetic dissection of brain disorders.

Hutzler S, Erbar S, Jabulowsky RA, Hanauer JRH, Schnotz JH, Beissert T, Bodmer BS, Eberle R, Boller K, Klamp T, Sahin U, Mühlebach MD. (2017)

Antigen-specific oncolytic MV-based tumor vaccines through presentation of selected tumor-associated antigens on infected cells or virus-like particles.

Sci. Rep. 2017. 7(1):16892.

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Recombinant vaccine strain-derived measles virus (MV) is clinically tested both as vaccine platform to protect against other pathogens and as oncolytic virus for tumor treatment. To investigate the potential synergism in anti-tumoral efficacy of oncolytic and vaccine properties, we chose Ovalbumin and an ideal tumor antigen, claudin-6, for pre-clinical proof of concept. To enhance immunogenicity, both antigens were presented by retroviral virus-like particle produced in situ during MV-infection. All recombinant MV revealed normal growths, genetic stability, and proper expression and presentation of both antigens. Potent antigen-specific humoral and cellular immunity were found in immunized MV-susceptible IFNAR-/--CD46Ge mice. These immune responses significantly inhibited metastasis formation or increased therapeutic efficacy compared to control MV in respective novel in vivo tumor models using syngeneic B16-hCD46/mCLDN6 murine melanoma cells. These data indicate the potential of MV to trigger selected tumor antigen-specific immune responses on top of direct tumor lysis for enhanced efficacy.

Beissert T, Koste L, Perkovic M, Walzer KC, Erbar S, Selmi A, Diken M, Kreiter S, Türeci Ö, Sahin U. (2017)

Improvement of In Vivo Expression of Genes Delivered by Self-Amplifying RNA Using Vaccinia Virus Immune Evasion Proteins.

Hum. Gene Ther. 2017/09/06 online.

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Among nucleic acid-based delivery platforms, self-amplifying RNA (saRNA) vectors are of increasing interest for applications such as transient expression of recombinant proteins and vaccination. saRNA is safe and, due to its capability to amplify intracellularly, high protein levels can be produced from even minute amounts of transfected templates. However, it is an obstacle to full exploitation of this platform that saRNA induces a strong innate host immune response. In transfected cells, pattern recognition receptors sense double-stranded RNA intermediates and via activation of protein kinase R (PKR) and interferon signaling initiate host defense measures including a translational shutdown. To reduce pattern recognition receptor stimulation and unleash suppressed saRNA translation, this study co-delivered non-replicating mRNA encoding vaccinia virus immune evasion proteins E3, K3, and B18. It was shown that E3 is far superior to K3 or B18 as a highly potent blocker of PKR activation and of interferon (IFN)-β upregulation. B18, in contrast, is superior in controlling OAS1, a key IFN-inducible gene involved in viral RNA degradation. By combining all three vaccinia proteins, the study achieved significant suppression of PKR and IFN pathway activation in vitro and enhanced expression of saRNA-encoded genes of interest both in vitro and in vivo. This approach promises to overcome key hurdles of saRNA gene delivery. Its application may improve the bioavailability of the encoded protein, and reduce the effective dose and correspondingly the cost of goods of manufacture in the various fields where saRNA utilization is envisioned.

Sahin U, Derhovanessian E, Miller M, Kloke BP, Simon P, Löwer M, Bukur V, Tadmor AD, Luxemburger U, Schrörs B, Omokoko T, Vormehr M, Albrecht C, Paruzynski A, Kuhn AN, Buck J, Heesch S, Schreeb KH, Müller F, Ortseifer I, Vogler I, Godehardt E, Attig S, Rae R, Breitkreuz A, Tolliver C, Suchan M, Martic G, Hohberger A, Sorn P, Diekmann J, Ciesla J, Waksmann O, Kemmer-Brück A, Witt M, Zillgen M, Rothermel A, Kasemann B, Langer D, Bolte S, Diken M, Kreiter S, Nemecek R, Gebhardt C, Grabbe S, Höller C, Utikal J, Huber C, Loquai C, Türeci Ö. (2017)

Personalized RNA mutanome vaccines mobilize poly-specific therapeutic immunity against cancer.

Nature. 2017. 547(7662):222-226.

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T cells directed against mutant neo-epitopes drive cancer immunity. However, spontaneous immune recognition of mutations is inefficient. We recently introduced the concept of individualized mutanome vaccines and implemented an RNA-based poly-neo-epitope approach to mobilize immunity against a spectrum of cancer mutations. Here we report the first-in-human application of this concept in melanoma. We set up a process comprising comprehensive identification of individual mutations, computational prediction of neo-epitopes, and design and manufacturing of a vaccine unique for each patient. All patients developed T cell responses against multiple vaccine neo-epitopes at up to high single-digit percentages. Vaccine-induced T cell infiltration and neo-epitope-specific killing of autologous tumour cells were shown in post-vaccination resected metastases from two patients. The cumulative rate of metastatic events was highly significantly reduced after the start of vaccination, resulting in a sustained progression-free survival. Two of the five patients with metastatic disease experienced vaccine-related objective responses. One of these patients had a late relapse owing to outgrowth of β2-microglobulin-deficient melanoma cells as an acquired resistance mechanism. A third patient developed a complete response to vaccination in combination with PD-1 blockade therapy. Our study demonstrates that individual mutations can be exploited, thereby opening a path to personalized immunotherapy for patients with cancer.

Stadler CR, Bahr-Mahmud H, Celik L, Hebich B, Roth AS, Roth RP, Kariko K, Tureci O, Sahin U. (2017)

Elimination of large tumors in mice by mRNA-encoded bispecific antibodies.

Nat Med. 2017.(7):815-817.

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The potential of bispecific T cell–engaging antibodies is hindered by manufacturing challenges and short serum half-life. We circumvented these limitations by treating mice with in vitro–transcribed pharmacologically optimized, nucleoside-modified mRNA encoding the antibody. We achieved sustained endogenous synthesis of the antibody, which eliminated advanced tumors as effectively as the corresponding purified bispecific antibody. Because manufacturing of pharmaceutical mRNA is fast, this approach could accelerate the clinical development of novel bispecific antibodies.

Diken M, Vormehr M, Grunwitz C, Kreiter S, Türeci Ö, Sahin U. (2017)

Discovery and Subtyping of Neo-Epitope Specific T-Cell Responses for Cancer Immunotherapy: Addressing the Mutanome.

Methods Mol Biol.2017;1499:223-236.

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Cancer accumulates 10s to 1000s of genomic mutations of which a fraction is immunogenic and may serve as an Achilles’ heel of tumor cells. Mutation-specific T cells can recognize these antigens and destroy malignant cells. Strategies to immunotherapeutically address individual tumor mutations employing peptide or mRNA based vaccines are now actively investigated in mice and humans. An important step of determining the therapeutic potential of a mutanome vaccine is the detection of mutation reactive T-cell responses. In this chapter we provide protocols to identify and subtype mutation specific T cells in mice based on IFN-γ ELISpot and flow cytometry.

Hinz T, Kallen K, Britten CM, Flamion B, Granzer U, Hoos A, Huber C, Khleif S, Kreiter S, Rammensee HG, Sahin U, Singh-Jasuja H, Türeci Ö, Kalinke U. (2017)

The European Regulatory Environment of RNA-Based Vaccines.

Methods Mol Biol. 2017;1499:203-222.

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A variety of different mRNA-based drugs are currently in development. This became possible, since major breakthroughs in RNA research during the last decades allowed impressive improvements of translation, stability and delivery of mRNA. This article focuses on antigen-encoding RNA-based vaccines that are either directed against tumors or pathogens. mRNA-encoded vaccines are developed both for preventive or therapeutic purposes. Most mRNA-based vaccines are directly administered to patients. Alternatively, primary autologous cells from cancer patients are modified ex vivo by the use of mRNA and then are adoptively transferred to patients. In the EU no regulatory guidelines presently exist that specifically address mRNA-based vaccines. The existing regulatory framework, however, clearly defines that mRNA-based vaccines in most cases have to be centrally approved. Interestingly, depending on whether RNA-based vaccines are directed against tumors or infectious disease, they are formally considered gene therapy products or not, respectively. Besides an overview on the current clinical use of mRNA vaccines in various therapeutic areas a detailed discussion of the current regulatory situation is provided and regulatory perspectives are discussed.

Diken M, Kranz LM, Kreiter S, Sahin U. (2017)

mRNA: A Versatile Molecule for Cancer Vaccines.

Curr Issues Mol Biol. 2017;22:113-128.

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mRNA vaccines are finally ready to assume their rightful place at the forefront of nucleic acid- based vaccines. Major achievements within the last two decades have turned this highly versatile molecule into a safe and very attractive pharmaceutical platform that combines many positive attributes able to address a broad range of diseases, including cancer. The simplicity of mRNA vaccines greatly reduces complications generally associated with the production of biological vaccines. Intrinsic costimulatory and inflammatory triggers in addition to the provision of the antigenic information makes mRNA an all- in-one molecule that does not need additional adjuvants and that does not pose the risk of genomic integration. Clinical studies in various cancer types are moving forward and promising results with favorable clinical outcome are awaited. This review will recapitulate conceptual, mechanistic and immune-related features of this highly versatile molecule, elucidate how these features have been addressed in the past, and how comprehensive understanding can foster further optimization for broad application possibilities in cancer treatment.

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