L.E.A.P.S. Scientific Backgrounder

L.E.A.P.S. (Ligand Epitope Antigen Presentation System) is a CEL-SCI patented platform technology designed to stimulate antigen-specific immune responses in T-cells using synthetic peptides. LEAPS* constructs physically link the antigenic peptide with a T-cell binding ligand and are delivered directly to the recipient immune system by injection or mucosal absorption, potentially enhancing T-cell responses to a particular antigen.

Administered as a vaccine, LEAPS combines T-cell binding ligands with small, disease associated peptide antigens and may provide a new method to treat and prevent certain diseases.  The ability to generate a specific immune response is important because many diseases are often not combated effectively due to the body’s selection of the “inappropriate” immune response. The capability to specifically reprogram an immune response may offer a more effective approach than existing vaccines and drugs in attacking an underlying disease.

In September 2017, CEL-SCI was awarded a Phase II Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant in the amount of $1.5 million from the National Institute of Arthritis Muscoskeletal and Skin Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  This grant will provide funding to allow CEL-SCI to advance its first LEAPS product candidate, CEL-4000, towards an Investigational New Drug (IND) application, by funding GMP manufacturing, IND enabling studies, and additional mechanism of action studies. The work is being conducted at CEL-SCI’s research laboratory and Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois in the laboratories of Tibor Glant, MD, Ph.D., The Jorge O. Galante Professor of Orthopedic Surgery and Katalin Mikecz, MD, Ph.D. Professor of Orthopedic Surgery & Biochemistry.  The grant was awarded based on published data described below by Dr. Glant’s team in collaboration with CEL-SCI showing that the administration of a proprietary peptide using CEL-SCI’s LEAPS technology prevented the development, and lessened the severity, including inflammation, of experimental proteoglycan induced arthritis (PGIA or GIA) when it was administered after the disease was induced in the animals (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5568759/).

In July 2014, CEL-SCI announced that it has been awarded a Phase 1 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant in the amount of $225,000 from the National Institute of Arthritis Muscoskeletal and Skin Diseases, which is part of the National Institutes of Health.  The grant funded the development of CEL-SCI’s LEAPS technology as a potential treatment for rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease of the joints. The work was conducted at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois in the laboratories of Tibor Glant, MD, Ph.D., The Jorge O. Galante Professor of Orthopedic Surgery; Katalin Mikecz, MD, Ph.D. Professor of Orthopedic Surgery & Biochemistry; and Allison Finnegan, Ph.D. Professor of Medicine.

With the support of the SBIR grant, CEL-SCI is developing two new drug candidates, CEL-2000 and CEL-4000, as potential rheumatoid arthritis therapeutic vaccines.  The data from animal studies using the CEL-2000 treatment vaccine demonstrated that it could be used as an effective treatment against rheumatoid arthritis with fewer administrations than those required by other anti-rheumatoid arthritis treatments currently on the market for arthritic conditions associated with the Th17 signature cytokine TNF-α. The data for CEL-4000 indicates it could be effective against rheumatoid arthritis cases where a Th1 signature cytokine (IFN-γ) is dominant. CEL-2000 and CEL-4000 have the potential to be a more disease-specific therapy, significantly less expensive, act at an earlier step in the disease process than current therapies and may be useful in patients not responding to existing rheumatoid arthritis therapies. CEL-SCI believes this represents a large unmet medical need in the rheumatoid arthritis market.

In February 2017 and November 2016, CEL-SCI announced new preclinical data that demonstrate its investigational new drug candidate CEL-4000 has the potential for use as a therapeutic vaccine to treat rheumatoid arthritis. This efficacy study was supported in part by the SBIR Phase I Grant and was conducted in collaboration with Drs. Katalin Mikecz and Tibor Glant, and their research team at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

In March 2015, CEL-SCI and its collaborators published a review article on vaccine therapies for rheumatoid arthritis based in part on work supported by the SBIR grant.  The article is entitled “Rheumatoid arthritis vaccine therapies: perspectives and lessons from therapeutic Ligand Epitope Antigen Presentation System vaccines for models of rheumatoid arthritis” and was published in Expert Rev. Vaccines 1 – 18 and can be found at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25787143.    

In August 2012, Dr. Zimmerman, CEL-SCI’s Senior Vice President of Research, Cellular Immunology, gave a Keynote presentation at the OMICS 2nd International Conference on Vaccines and Vaccinations in Chicago.  This presentation showed how the LEAPS peptides administered altered only select cytokines specific for each disease model, thereby improving the status of the test animals and even preventing death and morbidity.  These results support the growing body of evidence that provides for its mode of action by a common format in these unrelated conditions by regulation of Th1 (e.g., IL12 and IFN-γ) and their action on reducing TNF-α and other inflammatory cytokines as well as regulation of antibodies to these disease associated antigens.  This was also illustrated by a schematic model showing how these pathways interact and result in the overall effect of protection and regulation of cytokines in a beneficial manner.

Using the LEAPS technology, CEL-SCI has created a potential peptide treatment for H1N1 (swine flu) hospitalized patients.  This LEAPS flu treatment is designed to focus on the conserved, non-changing epitopes of the different strains of Type A Influenza viruses (H1N1, H5N1, H3N1, etc.), including “swine”, “avian or bird”, and “Spanish Influenza”, in order to minimize the chance of viral “escape by mutations” from immune recognition. Therefore one should think of this treatment not really as an H1N1 treatment, but as a potential pandemic flu treatment.  CEL-SCI’s LEAPS flu treatment contains epitopes known to be associated with immune protection against influenza in animal models. 

In May 2011 NIAID scientists presented data at the Keystone Conference on “Pathogenesis of Influenza: Virus-Host Interactions” in Hong Kong, China, showing the positive results of efficacy studies in mice of LEAPS H1N1 activated dendritic cells (DCs) to treat the H1N1 virus.  Scientists at the NIAID found that H1N1-infected mice treated with LEAPS-H1N1 DCs showed a survival advantage over mice treated with control DCs. The work was performed in collaboration with scientists led by Kanta Subbarao, M.D., Chief of the Emerging Respiratory Diseases Section in NIAID’s Division of Intramural Research, part of the National Institutes of Health, USA.  

In July 2013, CEL-SCI announced the publication of the results of influenza studies by researchers from the NIAID in the Journal of Clinical Investigation (www.jci.org/articles/view/67550).  The studies described in the publication show that when CEL-SCI’s investigational J-LEAPS Influenza Virus treatments were used “in vitro” to activate DCs, these activated DCs, when injected into influenza infected mice, arrested the progression of lethal influenza virus infection in these mice.  The work was performed in the laboratory of Dr. Subbarao.

Even though the various LEAPS vaccine candidates have not yet been given to humans, they have been tested in vitro with human cells (Taylor et al Cell Immunol Feb 2010).  They have induced similar cytokine responses that were seen in these animal models (Taylor et al June 2010 Vaccine), which may indicate that the LEAPS technology might translate to humans.  The LEAPS candidates have demonstrated protection against lethal herpes simplex virus (HSV1) and H1N1 influenza infection, as a prophylactic or therapeutic agent in animals. They have also shown some level of efficacy in animals in two autoimmune conditions, curtailing and sometimes preventing disease progression in arthritis and myocarditis animal models.  CEL-SCI’s belief is that the LEAPS technology may be a significant alternative to the vaccines currently available on the market for these diseases.

* LEAPS is the name of CEL-SCI for this investigational platform technology. No LEAPS product has been approved for sale, barter or exchange by the FDA or any other regulatory agency for any use to treat disease in animals or humans. The safety or efficacy of these products has not been established for any use. Lastly, no definitive conclusions can be drawn from these early-phase, pre-clinical-trials data involving these investigational products.