ILT4 (immunoglobulin-Like Transcript 4) is an immune checkpoint receptor mainly expressed by myeloid immune cells. In cancer context, ILT4 participates in tumor development by maintaining a pro-tumoral immuno-microenvironment and directly promoting tumor cell proliferation.
ILT4 interaction with the non-classical MCH class I molecule HLA-G induces an immunosuppressive microenvironment by promoting tolerogenic myeloid cells. Moreover, the ectopic expression of ILT4 has been reported in several solid tumors. The activation of ILT4 by Angiopoietin-like-2 (ANGPTL2) promotes non-small cell lung tumor cell proliferation and inhibits cell apoptosis.
Targeting this new immune checkpoint with blocking antibodies is therefore a promising cancer immunotherapy approach. In light of several drawbacks of classical IgG blocking antibodies in solid cancer, we investigated the potential of VHH-based inhibitors. This small monoclonal antibody format, derived from camelid homodimeric antibodies, is devoid of Fc region and presents increased tumor penetrability.
After immunization of an alpaca and phage-display screening, we selected a VHH with high affinity and specificity to ILT4 that inhibits the interaction of the receptor with both ligands. We validated the VHH’s biological antagonist activity on tumor cells and monocyte-derived pro-tumoral M2 like macrophages in vitro. These results support the potential of this new VHH-based antibody targeting ILT4 in cancer immunotherapy.