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Importance: The success of immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors is not replicated in most cases of colorectal cancer; therefore, different strategies are urgently required. The oncofetal antigen 5T4 is expressed in more than 90% of cases of metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC). Preliminary data using modified vaccinia Ankara-5T4 (MVA-5T4) in mCRC demonstrated that it safely induced serologic and T-cell responses. Objective: To determine whether antitumor immunity in mCRC could be increased using MVA-5T4, metronomic low-dose cyclophosphamide, or a combination of both treatments. Design, Setting, and Participants: In this randomized clinical trial, 55 patients with inoperable mCRC and prior stable disease after standard chemotherapy were enrolled at a single center and randomized to watch and wait (n = 9), cyclophosphamide treatment only (n = 9), MVA-5T4 only (n = 19), and a combination of MVA-5T4 and cyclophosphamide (n = 18). Patients were enrolled and treated from July 9, 2012, through February 8, 2016, and follow-up was completed on December 13, 2016. Data were analyzed based on intention to treat. Interventions: Patients randomized to a cyclophosphamide group received 50 mg twice daily on treatment days 1 to 7 and 15 to 21. Patients randomized to a MVA-5T4 group received an intramuscular injection at a dose of 1 × 109 50% tissue culture infectious dose on treatment days 22, 36, 50, 64, 78, and 106. Main Outcomes and Measures: The predefined primary end point was the magnitude of anti-5T4 immune responses (5T4-specific T-cell and antibody levels) generated at treatment week 7. Secondary end points included analysis of the kinetics of anti-5T4 responses, progression-free survival (PFS), and overall survival (OS). Results: Fifty-two patients (38 men and 14 women; mean [SD] age, 64.2 [10.1] years) were included in the study analysis. The 5T4-specific antibody immune responses were significantly increased in the MVA-5T4 (83.41 [36.09] relative units [RU]; P = .02) and combination treatment (65.81 [16.68] RU; P = .002) groups compared with no treatment (20.09 [7.20] RU). Cyclophosphamide depleted regulatory T cells in 24 of 27 patients receiving MVA-5T4, independently prolonging PFS (5.0 vs 2.5 months; hazard ratio [HR], 0.48; 95% CI, 0.21-1.11; P = .09). MVA-5T4 doubled baseline anti-5T4 responses in 16 of 35 patients, resulting in significantly prolonged PFS (5.6 vs 2.4 months; HR, 0.21; 95% CI, 0.09-0.47; P < .001) and OS (20.0 vs 10.3 months; HR, 0.32; 95% CI, 0.14-0.74; P = .008). No grade 3 or 4 adverse events were observed. Conclusions and Relevance: This initial randomized clinical immunotherapy study demonstrates a significant survival benefit in mCRC. Prior depletion of regulatory T cells by cyclophosphamide did not increase immune responses generated by MVA-5T4 vaccination; however, cyclophosphamide and MVA-5T4 each independently induced beneficial antitumor immune responses, resulting in prolonged survival without toxic effects. Larger clinical trials are planned to further validate these data. Trial Registration: Identifier: ISRCTN54669986.

Original publication




Journal article


JAMA Oncol

Publication Date





Adult, Aged, Antigens, Neoplasm, Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols, Cancer Vaccines, Colorectal Neoplasms, Cyclophosphamide, Disease-Free Survival, Dose-Response Relationship, Drug, Female, Humans, Immunotherapy, Male, Middle Aged, T-Lymphocytes