News Column

Patent Application Titled "Thymidine Kinase" Published Online

July 17, 2014

By a News Reporter-Staff News Editor at Gene Therapy Weekly -- According to news reporting originating from Washington, D.C., by NewsRx journalists, a patent application by the inventors SALVATORI, Francesca (Milan, IT); MASSA, Stefania (Milan, IT); RADRIZZANI, Marina (Milan, IT); TOMA, Salvatore (Milan, IT), filed on December 10, 2013, was made available online on July 3, 2014 (see also MolMed SpA).

The assignee for this patent application is MolMed SpA.

Reporters obtained the following quote from the background information supplied by the inventors: "There is considerable interest in the use of metabolic suicide genes in gene therapy. Numerous suicide genes are described in the literature, such as, for example, the genes coding for cytosine deaminase, purine nucleoside phosphorylase or a thymidine kinase. Among these genes, the gene coding for herpes simplex virus type 1 thymidine kinase (HSV-tk) is especially advantageous from a therapeutic standpoint. The HSV-tk gene expresses an enzyme, which when used in combination with the nucleoside analogue ganciclovir, is capable of specifically eliminating dividing cells. Of particular importance is the presence of a propagated toxicity effect ('bystander' effect) which is associated with the use of HSV-tk/ganciclovir. This effect manifests itself in the destruction not only of the cells which have incorporated the thymidine kinase (tk) gene, but also the neighbouring cells.

"The mechanism of action of the HSV-tk/ganciclovir system, may be outlined as follows: mammalian cells modified to express the TK enzyme implement the first step of phosphorylation of ganciclovir to yield ganciclovir monophosphate. Subsequently, cellular kinases enable this ganciclovir monophosphate to be metabolised successively to diphosphate and then triphosphate. The ganciclovir triphosphate thus generated then produces toxic effects by becoming incorporated in the DNA, and partially inhibits the cellular DNA polymerase alpha, thereby causing DNA synthesis to be stopped and hence leading to cell death (Moolten, 1986; Mullen, 1994).

"The HSV-tk/ganciclovir system can be used in a large number of therapeutic applications and numerous clinical trials have been implemented in the last decade. Methods of using the HSV-tk gene in gene therapy are disclosed in, for example, WO90/07936, U.S. Pat. No. 5,837,510, U.S. Pat. No. 5,861,290, WO 98/04290, WO 97/37542 and U.S. Pat. No. 5,631,236.

"One interesting application of the HSV-tk/ganciclovir system is in the prevention of graft-versus-host disease (GvHD), a condition that can interfere with the outcome of allogeneic bone marrow transplantation, the treatment of choice for many hematological malignancies. GvHD occurs when T-cells in the transplanted stem cell graft begin to attack the recipient's body. Removal of T-cells from the graft may prevent GvHD but also favours disease recurrence and graft rejection. To counter these effects, allogeneic bone marrow transplant patients can be treated by introducing donor T lymphocytes after a delay following the allogeneic bone marrow transplant. Transferring the HSV-tk gene to donor T lymphocytes allows their eradication after ganciclovir administration in case of the emergence of GvHD. In one trial, patients received a T-cell depleted bone marrow transplantation together with increasing doses of donor lymphocytes transduced with the HSV-tk gene (Tiberghien et al., 2001). Circulating HSV-tk-expressing cells could be detected for more than one year after engraftment in all patients. Six out of the twelve patients developed GvHD and received ganciclovir, substantially reducing the number of circulating modified cells (85% average decrease in absolute number).

"Mutants in the HSV-tk gene have been made which increase its biological activity. Examples of such mutant HSV-tk genes are described in, for example, Kokoris et al (1999), WO 95/30007, U.S. Pat. No. 5,877,010, WO 99/19466 and WO 95/14102. However, a serious problem associated with the thymidine kinase/ganciclovir system is the emergence of ganciclovir resistance in HSV-tk transduced cells. This is of particular importance, since the relative proportion of cells which are resistant to ganciclovir may rapidly increase through the course of treatment.

"The presence of ganciclovir resistance in a lymphoblastoid human T-cell line transduced with a retroviral vector containing the HSV-tk gene was found to be associated with a 227 base pair deletion in the HSV-tk gene (Fillat et al., 2003). The same deletion was also present in human primary T cells transduced with the vector and in 12 patients who received transduced donor T cells (Garin et al., 2001). WO 01/79502 discloses that the cause of this deletion is believed to be due to the presence of nucleotide sequences in the HSV-tk mRNA which act as splice sites to cause the production of a proportion of virus particles carrying an aberrant form of the gene, the remainder carrying the full length gene. A mutant of the thymidine kinase gene is disclosed in WO 01/79502 and in Chalmers 2001, Molecular Therapy 4:146-148, in which the splice sites are removed, and which reduces the production of the aberrant form of the thymidine kinase gene. However, this mutant is still associated with a detrimental amount of gene splicing. CD34-tk fusion constructs are disclosed in Rettig et al., 2003. These fusion constructs contain modified HSV-tk genes. However, there is no demonstration that the modified genes reduce splicing of the HSV-tk mRNA.

"Thus, there remains a need for a modified thymidine kinase gene that is not susceptible to gene splicing and which addresses the problems associated with ganciclovir resistance."

In addition to obtaining background information on this patent application, NewsRx editors also obtained the inventors' summary information for this patent application: "The present invention overcomes the aforementioned problem by providing a HSV-tk gene that expresses a greater proportion of unspliced mRNA over previously disclosed HSV-tk genes. We have identified a splice acceptor site 14 base pairs upstream of the previously identified acceptor site. We show that previous attempts to inhibit splicing by modification of the previously identified donor and acceptor sites can result in activation of this acceptor site and subsequent gene splicing. We surprisingly demonstrate that the modification of the HSV-tk gene at certain specific nucleotides provides a HSV-tk gene that is capable of expressing substantially splice-free mRNA. In particular, we show that mutating at least one of the nucleotides at the splice donor site can substantially prevent splicing."

For more information, see this patent application: SALVATORI, Francesca; MASSA, Stefania; RADRIZZANI, Marina; TOMA, Salvatore. Thymidine Kinase. Filed December 10, 2013 and posted July 3, 2014. Patent URL:

Keywords for this news article include: Biotechnology, Proteins, Viral DNA, Immunology, MolMed SpA, Proteomics, Blood Cells, Bone Marrow, Gene Therapy, Bone Research, T-Lymphocytes, Bioengineering, Thymidine Kinase, Enzymes and Coenzymes, Mononuclear Leukocytes, Hemic and Immune Systems, Phosphotransferases (Alcohol Group Acceptor).

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Source: Gene Therapy Weekly

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