Epigenetic modifiers as new immunomodulatory therapies in solid tumours
Journal Contribution - Journal Article
Background: Immune therapies have revolutionized cancer treatment over the last few years by allowing improvements in overall survival. However, the majority of patients is still primary or secondary resistant to such therapies, and enhancing sensitivity to immune therapies is therefore crucial to improve patient outcome. Several recent lines of evidence suggest that epigenetic modifiers have intrinsic immunomodulatory properties, which could be of therapeutic interest.
Material and methods: We reviewed preclinical evidence and clinical studies which describe or exploit immunomodulatory properties of epigenetic agents. Experimental approaches, clinical applicability and corresponding ongoing clinical trials are described.
Results: Several epigenetic modifiers, such as histone deacetylase inhibitors, DNA methyl transferase inhibitors, bromodomain inhibitors, lysine-specific histone demethylase 1 inhibitors and enhancer of zeste homolog 2 inhibitors, display intrinsic immunomodulatory properties. The latter can be achieved through the action of these drugs either on cancer cells (e.g. presentation and generation of neoantigens, induction of immunogenic cell death, modulation of cytokine secretion), on immune cells (e.g. linage, differentiation, activation status and antitumor capability), or on components of the microenvironment (e.g. regulatory T cells and macrophages). Several promising combinations, notably with immune checkpoint blockers or adoptive T-cell therapy, can be envisioned. Dedicated clinically relevant approaches for patient selection and trial design will be required to optimally develop such combinations.
Conclusion: In an era where immune therapies are becoming a treatment backbone in many tumour types, epigenetic modifiers could play a crucial role in modulating tumours' immunogenicity and sensitivity to immune agents. Optimal trial design, including window of opportunity trials, will be key in the success of this approach, and clinical evaluation is ongoing.