Development of a versatile oncolytic virus platform for local intra-tumoural expression of therapeutic transgenes
Oncolytic viruses which infect and kill tumour cells can also be genetically modified to express therapeutic genes that augment their anti-cancer activities. Modifying oncolytic viruses to produce effective cancer therapies is challenging as encoding transgenes often attenuates virus activity or prevents systemic delivery in patients due to the risk of off-target expression of transgenes in healthy tissues. To overcome these issues we aimed to generate a readily modifiable virus platform using the oncolytic adenovirus, enadenotucirev. Enadenotucirev replicates in human tumour cells but not cells from healthy tissues and can be delivered intravenously because it is stable in human blood. Here, the enadenotucirev genome was used to generate plasmids into which synthesised transgene cassettes could be directly cloned in a single step reaction. The platform enabled generation of panels of reporter viruses to identify cloning sites and transgene cassette designs where transgene expression could be linked to the virus life cycle. It was demonstrated using these viruses that encoded transgene proteins could be successfully expressed in tumour cells in vitro and tumours in vivo. The expression of transgenes did not impact either the oncolytic activity or selective properties of the virus. The effectiveness of this approach as a drug delivery platform for complex therapeutics was demonstrated by inserting multiple genes in the virus genome to encode full length anti-VEGF antibodies. Functional antibody could be synthesised and secreted from infected tumour cells without impacting the activity of the virus particle in terms of oncolytic potency, manufacturing yields or selectivity for tumour cells. In vivo, viral particles could be efficaciously delivered intravenously to disseminated orthotopic tumours.