Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy

, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 285–298 | Cite as

A phase I vaccination study with dendritic cells loaded with NY-ESO-1 and α-galactosylceramide: induction of polyfunctional T cells in high-risk melanoma patients

  • Olivier Gasser
  • Katrina J. Sharples
  • Catherine Barrow
  • Geoffrey M. Williams
  • Evelyn Bauer
  • Catherine E. Wood
  • Brigitta Mester
  • Marina Dzhelali
  • Graham Caygill
  • Jeremy Jones
  • Colin M. Hayman
  • Victoria A. Hinder
  • Jerome Macapagal
  • Monica McCusker
  • Robert Weinkove
  • Gavin F. Painter
  • Margaret A. Brimble
  • Michael P. Findlay
  • P. Rod Dunbar
  • Ian F. HermansEmail author
Original Article


Vaccines that elicit targeted tumor antigen-specific T-cell responses have the potential to be used as adjuvant therapy in patients with high risk of relapse. However, the responses induced by vaccines in cancer patients have generally been disappointing. To improve vaccine function, we investigated the possibility of exploiting the immunostimulatory capacity of type 1 Natural killer T (NKT) cells, a cell type enriched in lymphoid tissues that can trigger improved antigen-presenting function in dendritic cells (DCs). In this phase I dose escalation study, we treated eight patients with high-risk surgically resected stage II–IV melanoma with intravenous autologous monocyte-derived DCs loaded with the NKT cell agonist α-GalCer and peptides derived from the cancer testis antigen NY-ESO-1. Two synthetic long peptides spanning defined immunogenic regions of the NY-ESO-1 sequence were used. This therapy proved to be safe and immunologically effective, inducing increases in circulating NY-ESO-1-specific T cells that could be detected directly ex vivo in seven out of eight patients. These responses were achieved using as few as 5 × 105 peptide-loaded cells per dose. Analysis after in vitro restimulation showed increases in polyfunctional CD4+ and CD8+ T cells that were capable of manufacturing two or more cytokines simultaneously. Evidence of NKT cell proliferation and/or NKT cell-associated cytokine secretion was seen in most patients. In light of these strong responses, the concept of including NKT cell agonists in vaccine design requires further investigation.


Melanoma Dendritic cell NKT cell α-Galactosylceramide NY-ESO-1 





Adverse event


American Joint Committee on Cancer


Complementary determining region 3


Common terminology criteria for adverse events


Dendritic cell vaccine


Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group performance status


Fibroblast growth factor 2


Family wise error rate


IFN-γ-inducible protein-10


Influenza virus matrix protein 1


Monocyte chemoattractant protein-1


Macrophage inflammatory protein

NKT cell

Natural killer T cell


Influenza virus nucleoprotein


New York esophageal squamous cell carcinoma-1


Influenza virus protein basic-1


Platelet-derived growth factor BB


Prostaglandin E2


Regulated on activation, normal T cell expressed and secreted



The authors wish to thank the Hugh Green Cytometry Core for flow cytometry support.

Author contributions

Olivier Gasser developed the cellular methodology and performed the immunogenicity analyses. Katrina J. Sharples prepared the statistical plan and performed the analysis. Catherine Barrow chaired the trial management committee, oversaw patient recruitment and treated patients. Geoffrey M. Williams, P. Rod Dunbar, and Margaret A. Brimble developed the synthetic methodology and manufactured GMP grade peptides. Evelyn Bauer and Brigitta Mester developed the methodology and manufactured the cellular vaccine to GMP standards. Graham Caygill, Jeremy Jones, Colin M. Hayman, and Gavin F. Painter developed the synthetic methodology and manufactured α-GalCer to GMP standards. Catherine E. Wood, Marina Dzhelali, and Robert Weinkove provided local clinical support. Victoria A. Hinder, Jerome Macapagal, Monica McCusker, Catherine E. Wood, Marina Dzhelali, Catherine Barrow, Katrina J. Sharples, and Michael P. Findlay undertook clinical project development, management, analysis and reporting. Olivier Gasser, Katrina J. Sharples, P. Rod Dunbar, and Ian F. Hermans analyzed the immunological data and wrote the manuscript, with input from the other authors. Catherine Barrow, Katrina J. Sharples, Michael P. Findlay, P. Rod Dunbar, and Ian F. Hermans conceived and designed the study.


This work was funded by Health Research Council programme Grant 10/667 and the Health Research Council of New Zealand IROF fund 14/1003.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval and ethical standards

The study was approved by the Northern B Health and Disability Ethics Committee (Ref 13/NTB/5) and registered with the Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12612001101875). The study was monitored by an independent Data Monitoring Committee appointed by the Health Research Council of New Zealand.

Informed consent

All patients gave written informed consent.

Supplementary material

262_2017_2085_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (4.8 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 4894 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Olivier Gasser
    • 1
  • Katrina J. Sharples
    • 2
    • 3
  • Catherine Barrow
    • 4
  • Geoffrey M. Williams
    • 5
  • Evelyn Bauer
    • 1
  • Catherine E. Wood
    • 1
    • 4
  • Brigitta Mester
    • 1
  • Marina Dzhelali
    • 4
  • Graham Caygill
    • 6
  • Jeremy Jones
    • 6
  • Colin M. Hayman
    • 7
  • Victoria A. Hinder
    • 3
  • Jerome Macapagal
    • 3
  • Monica McCusker
    • 3
  • Robert Weinkove
    • 1
    • 4
  • Gavin F. Painter
    • 7
  • Margaret A. Brimble
    • 5
  • Michael P. Findlay
    • 3
  • P. Rod Dunbar
    • 5
    • 8
  • Ian F. Hermans
    • 1
    • 5
    • 9
    Email author
  1. 1.Malaghan Institute of Medical ResearchWellingtonNew Zealand
  2. 2.Dunedin School of MedicineUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  3. 3.Cancer Trials New ZealandUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  4. 4.Capital and Coast District Health BoardWellingtonNew Zealand
  5. 5.Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular BiodiscoveryAucklandNew Zealand
  6. 6.GlycoSynLower HuttNew Zealand
  7. 7.The Ferrier Research InstituteVictoria University of WellingtonLower HuttNew Zealand
  8. 8.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand
  9. 9.School of Biological SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

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