Dual blockade of IL-6 and CTLA-4 regresses pancreatic tumors in a CD4+ T cell-dependent manner
Abstract: Pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) is exceptionally resistant to immune checkpoint inhibition (ICI). We previously reported that elevated systemic interleukin-6 (IL-6) and increased numbers of T cells positive for circulating cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein 4 (CTLA 4) correlate with worse overall survival in patients with PDAC. We postulated that combined blockade of IL-6 and CTLA-4 would significantly enhance anti-tumor immune responses to PDAC. Dual blockade of IL-6 and CTLA-4 in immune competent mice bearing subcutaneously injected pancreatic tumors significantly inhibited tumor growth, accompanied by overwhelming T cell infiltration. Therapeutic efficacy was confirmed in an orthotopic murine model of pancreatic cancer and T cell depletion studies unveiled a unique dependence on CD4+ T cells for anti-tumor activity of dual IL-6 and CTLA-4 blockade. In vitro studies utilizing T cells from a TRP-1 transgenic mouse as an antigen-specific model system demonstrate this combination therapy elicits increased IFN-γ production by activated CD4+ T cells. Additionally, IFN-γ stimulation of pancreatic tumor cells in vitro profoundly increased tumor cell production of CXCR3 specific chemokines (CXCL10 and CXCL9). Further studies blocking CXCR3 in the presence of combined IL-6 and CTLA-4 blockade prevented orthotopic tumor regression, demonstrating a dependence on the CXCR3 axis for anti-tumor efficacy. We also found combination therapy increased intratumoral CD4+ T cells and elicited systemic changes in T helper subsets. These data represent the first report of IL-6 and CTLA-4 blockade as a means to regress pancreatic tumors with defined operative mechanisms of efficacy. Given these results, this therapeutic combination has potential for immediate clinical translation.