Granulosa cell tumors (GCT) are rare ovarian malignancies. Due to the lack of effective treatment in late relapse, there is a clear unmet need for novel therapies. Forkhead Box L2 (FOXL2) is a protein mainly expressed in granulosa cells (GC) and therefore is a rational therapeutic target. Since we identified tumor infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs) as the main immune population within GCT, TILs from 11 GCT patients were expanded, and their phenotypes were interrogated to determine that T cells acquired late antigen-experienced phenotypes and lower levels of PD1 expression. Importantly, TILs maintained their functionality after ex vivo expansion as they vigorously reacted against autologous tumors (100% of patients) and against FOXL2 peptides (57.1% of patients). To validate the relevance of FOXL2 as a target for immune therapy, we developed a plasmid DNA vaccine (FoxL2–tetanus toxin; FoxL2-TT) by fusing Foxl2 cDNA with the immune-enhancing domain of TT. Mice immunization with FoxL2-TT controlled growth of FOXL2-expressing ovarian (BR5) and breast (4T1) cancers in a T cell–mediated manner. Combination of anti–PD-L1 with FoxL2-TT vaccination further reduced tumor progression and improved mouse survival without affecting the female reproductive system and pregnancy. Together, our results suggest that FOXL2 immune targeting can produce substantial long-term clinical benefits. Our study can serve as a foundation for trials testing immunotherapeutic approaches in patients with ovarian GCT.
Stefano Pierini, Janos L. Tanyi, Fiona Simpkins, Erin George, Mireia Uribe-Herranz, Ronny Drapkin, Robert Burger, Mark A. Morgan, Andrea Facciabene