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Safety mechanism assisted by the repressor of tetracycline (SMART) vaccinia virus vectors for vaccines and therapeutics

Grigg, Patricia, Titong, Allison, Jones, Leslie A., Yilma, Tilahun D., Verardi, Paulo H.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2013 v.110 no.38 pp. 15407-15412
Vaccinia virus, cell culture, doxycycline, genes, immune response, immunocompromised population, immunotherapy, interferon-gamma, mice, neoplasms, severe combined immunodeficiency, tetracycline, vaccines, virus replication, viruses, weight loss
Replication-competent viruses, such as Vaccinia virus (VACV), are powerful tools for the development of oncolytic viral therapies and elicit superior immune responses when used as vaccine and immunotherapeutic vectors. However, severe complications from uncontrolled viral replication can occur, particularly in immunocompromised individuals or in those with other predisposing conditions. VACVs constitutively expressing interferon-γ (IFN-γ) replicate in cell culture indistinguishably from control viruses; however, they replicate in vivo to low or undetectable levels, and are rapidly cleared even in immunodeficient animals. In an effort to develop safe and highly effective replication-competent VACV vectors, we established a system to inducibly express IFN-γ. Our SMART (safety mechanism assisted by the repressor of tetracycline) vectors are designed to express the tetracycline repressor under a constitutive VACV promoter and IFN-γ under engineered tetracycline-inducible promoters. Immunodeficient SCID mice inoculated with VACVs not expressing IFN-γ demonstrated severe weight loss, whereas those given VACVs expressing IFN-γ under constitutive VACV promoters showed no signs of infection. Most importantly, mice inoculated with a VACV expressing the IFN-γ gene under an inducible promoter remained healthy in the presence of doxycycline, but exhibited severe weight loss in the absence of doxycycline. In this study, we developed a safety mechanism for VACV based on the conditional expression of IFN-γ under a tightly controlled tetracycline-inducible VACV promoter for use in vaccines and oncolytic cancer therapies.