Background & Aims: Although direct-acting antiviral (DAA) treatment results in a sustained virologic response (SVR) in most patients with chronic HCV infection, they are at risk of re-infection. Moreover, the immune system is not completely normalized even after SVR (e.g. increased regulatory T [Treg] cell frequency). We developed a DNA vaccine, GLS-6150, to prevent re-infection of patients with DAA-induced SVR and evaluated its safety and immunogenicity in individuals with chronic HCV infection. Methods: GLS-6150 consists of plasmids encoding HCV non-structural proteins (NS3-NS5A) and adjuvant IFNL3. The vaccine was administered 4 times at 4-weekly intervals to 3 groups (1, 3, or 6 mg/vaccination; n = 6 per group), followed by a 6 mg boost at 24 weeks (n = 14). Peripheral blood T cell responses were evaluated by interferon (IFN)-γ enzyme-linked immunospot assays, intracellular cytokine staining, and major histocompatibility complex class-I (MHC-I) dextramer staining. Treg cell frequency was assessed by flow cytometry. Results: Severe adverse events or vaccine discontinuation were not reported. The IFN-γ spot-forming cells specific to NS3-NS5A were increased by GLS-6150. Both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells produced multiple cytokines. However, the frequency and phenotype of HCV-specific MHC-I dextramer+CD8+ T cells were not changed. Interestingly, the frequency of Treg cells, particularly activated Treg cells, was decreased by GLS-6150, as expected from previous reports that IFNL3 adjuvants decrease Treg cell frequency. Ex vivo IFN-λ3 treatment reduced Treg frequency in pre-vaccination peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Finally, Treg cell frequency inversely correlated with HCV-specific, IFN-γ-producing T cell responses in the study participants. Conclusions: We demonstrate that GLS-6150 decreases Treg cell frequency and enhances HCV-specific T cell responses without significant side effects. A phase I clinical trial of GLS-6150 is currently underway in patients with DAA-induced SVR. Clinical trial number: NCT02027116. Lay summary: Although direct-acting antivirals (DAAs) are successfully used for the treatment of chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, a prophylactic HCV vaccine needs to be developed, especially for patients who achieve a sustained virologic response. In the current study, we show that a DNA vaccine (GLS-6150) was safe and increased HCV-specific T cell responses. A clinical trial is underway to test this vaccine in patients with a sustained virologic response following DAA therapy.
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