The Emergence of Universal Immune Receptor T Cell Therapy for Cancer
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells have shown great success in the treatment of CD19+ hematological malignancies, leading to their recent approval by the FDA as a new cancer treatment modality. However, their broad use is limited since a CAR targets a single tumor associated antigen (TAA), which is not effective against tumors with heterogeneous TAA expression or emerging antigen loss variants. Further, stably engineered CAR T cells can continually and uncontrollably proliferate and activate in response to antigen, potentially causing fatal on-target off-tumor toxicity, cytokine release syndrome, or neurotoxicity without a method of control or elimination. To address these issues, our lab and others have developed various universal immune receptors (UIRs) that allow for targeting of multiple TAAs by T cells expressing a single receptor. UIRs function through the binding of an extracellular adapter domain which acts as a bridge between intracellular T cell signaling domains and a soluble tumor antigen targeting ligand (TL). The dissociation of TAA targeting and T cell signaling confers many advantages over standard CAR therapy, such as dose control of T cell effector function, the ability to simultaneously or sequentially target multiple TAAs, and control of immunologic synapse geometry. There are currently four unique UIR platform types: ADCC-mediating Fc-binding immune receptors, bispecific protein engaging immune receptors, natural binding partner immune receptors, and anti-tag CARs. These UIRs all allow for potential benefits over standard CARs, but also bring unique engineering challenges that will have to be addressed to achieve maximal efficacy and safety in the clinic. Still, UIRs present an exciting new avenue for adoptive T cell transfer therapies and could lead to their expanded use in areas which current CAR therapies have failed. Here we review the development of each UIR platform and their unique functional benefits, and detail the potential hurdles that may need to be overcome for continued clinical translation.
Exploratory trial of a biepitopic CAR T-targeting B cell maturation antigen in relapsed/refractory multiple myeloma
Relapsed and refractory (R/R) multiple myeloma (MM) patients have very poor prognosis. Chimeric antigen receptor modified T (CAR T) cells is an emerging approach in treating hematopoietic malignancies. Here we conducted the clinical trial of a biepitope-targeting CAR T against B cell maturation antigen (BCMA) (LCAR-B38M) in 17 R/R MM cases. CAR T cells were i.v. infused after lymphodepleting chemotherapy. Two delivery methods, three infusions versus one infusion of the total CAR T dose, were tested in, respectively, 8 and 9 cases. No response differences were noted among the two delivery subgroups. Together, after CAR T cell infusion, 10 cases experienced a mild cytokine release syndrome (CRS), 6 had severe but manageable CRS, and 1 died of a very severe toxic reaction. The abundance of BCMA and cytogenetic marker del(17p) and the elevation of IL-6 were the key indicators for severe CRS. Among 17 cases, the overall response rate was 88.2%, with 13 achieving stringent complete response (sCR) and 2 reaching very good partial response (VGPR), while 1 was a nonresponder. With a median follow-up of 417 days, 8 patients remained in sCR or VGPR, whereas 6 relapsed after sCR and 1 had progressive disease (PD) after VGPR. CAR T cells were high in most cases with stable response but low in 6 out of 7 relapse/PD cases. Notably, positive anti-CAR antibody constituted a high-risk factor for relapse/PD, and patients who received prior autologous hematopoietic stem cell transplantation had more durable response. Thus, biepitopic CAR T against BCMA represents a promising therapy for R/R MM, while most adverse effects are clinically manageable.
The CTLA-4 x OX40 bispecific antibody ATOR-1015 induces anti-tumor effects through tumor-directed immune activation
BACKGROUND: The CTLA-4 blocking antibody ipilimumab has demonstrated substantial and durable effects in patients with melanoma. While CTLA-4 therapy, both as monotherapy and in combination with PD-1 targeting therapies, has great potential in many indications, the toxicities of the current treatment regimens may limit their use. Thus, there is a medical need for new CTLA-4 targeting therapies with improved benefit-risk profile. METHODS: ATOR-1015 is a human CTLA-4 x OX40 targeting IgG1 bispecific antibody generated by linking an optimized version of the Ig-like V-type domain of human CD86, a natural CTLA-4 ligand, to an agonistic OX40 antibody. In vitro evaluation of T-cell activation and T regulatory cell (Treg) depletion was performed using purified cells from healthy human donors or cell lines. In vivo anti-tumor responses were studied using human OX40 transgenic (knock-in) mice with established syngeneic tumors. Tumors and spleens from treated mice were analyzed for CD8(+) T cell and Treg frequencies, T-cell activation markers and tumor localization using flow cytometry. RESULTS: ATOR-1015 induces T-cell activation and Treg depletion in vitro. Treatment with ATOR-1015 reduces tumor growth and improves survival in several syngeneic tumor models, including bladder, colon and pancreas cancer models. It is further demonstrated that ATOR-1015 induces tumor-specific and long-term immunological memory and enhances the response to PD-1 inhibition. Moreover, ATOR-1015 localizes to the tumor area where it reduces the frequency of Tregs and increases the number and activation of CD8(+) T cells. CONCLUSIONS: By targeting CTLA-4 and OX40 simultaneously, ATOR-1015 is directed to the tumor area where it induces enhanced immune activation, and thus has the potential to be a next generation CTLA-4 targeting therapy with improved clinical efficacy and reduced toxicity. ATOR-1015 is also expected to act synergistically with anti-PD-1/PD-L1 therapy. The pre-clinical data support clinical development of ATOR-1015, and a first-in-human trial has started (NCT03782467).
Systemic clinical tumor regressions and potentiation of PD1 blockade with in situ vaccination
Indolent non-Hodgkin's lymphomas (iNHLs) are incurable with standard therapy and are poorly responsive to checkpoint blockade. Although lymphoma cells are efficiently killed by primed T cells, in vivo priming of anti-lymphoma T cells has been elusive. Here, we demonstrate that lymphoma cells can directly prime T cells, but in vivo immunity still requires cross-presentation. To address this, we developed an in situ vaccine (ISV), combining Flt3L, radiotherapy, and a TLR3 agonist, which recruited, antigen-loaded and activated intratumoral, cross-presenting dendritic cells (DCs). ISV induced anti-tumor CD8(+) T cell responses and systemic (abscopal) cancer remission in patients with advanced stage iNHL in an ongoing trial ( NCT01976585 ). Non-responding patients developed a population of PD1(+)CD8(+) T cells after ISV, and murine tumors became newly responsive to PD1 blockade, prompting a follow-up trial of the combined therapy. Our data substantiate that recruiting and activating intratumoral, cross-priming DCs is achievable and critical to anti-tumor T cell responses and PD1-blockade efficacy.
Targeted antibody and cytokine cancer immunotherapies through collagen affinity
Cancer immunotherapy with immune checkpoint inhibitors (CPIs) and interleukin-2 (IL-2) has demonstrated clinical efficacy but is frequently accompanied with severe adverse events caused by excessive and systemic immune system activation. Here, we addressed this need by targeting both the CPI antibodies anti-cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen 4 antibody (alphaCTLA4) + anti-programmed death ligand 1 antibody (alphaPD-L1) and the cytokine IL-2 to tumors via conjugation (for the antibodies) or recombinant fusion (for the cytokine) to a collagen-binding domain (CBD) derived from the blood protein von Willebrand factor (VWF) A3 domain, harnessing the exposure of tumor stroma collagen to blood components due to the leakiness of the tumor vasculature. We show that intravenously administered CBD protein accumulated mainly in tumors. CBD conjugation or fusion decreases the systemic toxicity of both alphaCTLA4 + alphaPD-L1 combination therapy and IL-2, for example, eliminating hepatotoxicity with the CPI molecules and ameliorating pulmonary edema with IL-2. Both CBD-CPI and CBD-IL-2 suppressed tumor growth compared to their unmodified forms in multiple murine cancer models, and both CBD-CPI and CBD-IL-2 increased tumor-infiltrating CD8(+) T cells. In an orthotopic breast cancer model, combination treatment with CPI and IL-2 eradicated tumors in 9 of 13 animals with the CBD-modified drugs, whereas it did so in only 1 of 13 animals with the unmodified drugs. Thus, the A3 domain of VWF can be used to improve safety and efficacy of systemically administered tumor drugs with high translational promise.
A designer self-assembled supramolecule amplifies macrophage immune responses against aggressive cancer
Effectively activating macrophages that can 'eat' cancer cells is challenging. In particular, cancer cells secrete macrophage colony stimulating factor (MCSF), which polarizes tumour-associated macrophages from an antitumour M1 phenotype to a pro-tumourigenic M2 phenotype. Also, cancer cells can express CD47, an 'eat me not' signal that ligates with the signal regulatory protein alpha (SIRPalpha) receptor on macrophages to prevent phagocytosis. Here, we show that a supramolecular assembly consisting of amphiphiles inhibiting the colony stimulating factor 1 receptor (CSF-1R) and displaying SIRPalpha-blocking antibodies with a drug-to-antibody ratio of 17,000 can disable both mechanisms. The supramolecule homes onto SIRPalpha on macrophages, blocking the CD47-SIRPalpha signalling axis while sustainedly inhibiting CSF-1R. The supramolecule enhances the M2-to-M1 repolarization within the tumour microenvironment, and significantly improves antitumour and antimetastatic efficacies in two aggressive animal models of melanoma and breast cancer, with respect to clinically available small-molecule and biologic inhibitors of CSF-1R signalling. Simultaneously blocking the CD47-SIRPalpha and MCSF-CSF-1R signalling axes may constitute a promising immunotherapy.
Suppression of Exosomal PD-L1 Induces Systemic Anti-tumor Immunity and Memory
PD-L1 on the surface of tumor cells binds its receptor PD-1 on effector T cells, thereby suppressing their activity. Antibody blockade of PD-L1 can activate an anti-tumor immune response leading to durable remissions in a subset of cancer patients. Here, we describe an alternative mechanism of PD-L1 activity involving its secretion in tumor-derived exosomes. Removal of exosomal PD-L1 inhibits tumor growth, even in models resistant to anti-PD-L1 antibodies. Exosomal PD-L1 from the tumor suppresses T cell activation in the draining lymph node. Systemically introduced exosomal PD-L1 rescues growth of tumors unable to secrete their own. Exposure to exosomal PD-L1-deficient tumor cells suppresses growth of wild-type tumor cells injected at a distant site, simultaneously or months later. Anti-PD-L1 antibodies work additively, not redundantly, with exosomal PD-L1 blockade to suppress tumor growth. Together, these findings show that exosomal PD-L1 represents an unexplored therapeutic target, which could overcome resistance to current antibody approaches.
Nanobody-based CAR T cells that target the tumor microenvironment inhibit the growth of solid tumors in immunocompetent mice
Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy has been successful in clinical trials against hematological cancers, but has experienced challenges in the treatment of solid tumors. One of the main difficulties lies in a paucity of tumor-specific targets that can serve as CAR recognition domains. We therefore focused on developing VHH-based, single-domain antibody (nanobody) CAR T cells that target aspects of the tumor microenvironment conserved across multiple cancer types. Many solid tumors evade immune recognition through expression of checkpoint molecules, such as PD-L1, that down-regulate the immune response. We therefore targeted CAR T cells to the tumor microenvironment via the checkpoint inhibitor PD-L1 and observed a reduction in tumor growth, resulting in improved survival. CAR T cells that target the tumor stroma and vasculature through the EIIIB(+) fibronectin splice variant, which is expressed by multiple tumor types and on neovasculature, are likewise effective in delaying tumor growth. VHH-based CAR T cells can thus function as antitumor agents for multiple targets in syngeneic, immunocompetent animal models. Our results demonstrate the flexibility of VHH-based CAR T cells and the potential of CAR T cells to target the tumor microenvironment and treat solid tumors.
Single-cell imaging of CAR T cell activity in vivo reveals extensive functional and anatomical heterogeneity
CAR T cells represent a potentially curative strategy for B cell malignancies. However, the outcome and dynamics of CAR T cell interactions in distinct anatomical sites are poorly understood. Using intravital imaging, we tracked interactions established by anti-CD19 CAR T cells in B cell lymphoma-bearing mice. Circulating targets trapped CAR T cells in the lungs, reducing their access to lymphoid organs. In the bone marrow, tumor apoptosis was largely due to CAR T cells that engaged, killed, and detached from their targets within 25 min. Notably, not all CAR T cell contacts elicited calcium signaling or killing while interacting with tumors, uncovering extensive functional heterogeneity. Mathematical modeling revealed that direct killing was sufficient for tumor regression. Finally, antigen-loss variants emerged in the bone marrow, but not in lymph nodes, where CAR T cell cytotoxic activity was reduced. Our results identify a previously unappreciated level of diversity in the outcomes of CAR T cell interactions in vivo, with important clinical implications.
Adoptive Immunotherapy with Antigen-Specific T Cells Expressing a Native TCR
Although T cells genetically modified with chimeric antigen receptors became the first immune effector product to obtain FDA approval, T-cell products that recognize their antigenic targets through their native receptors have also produced encouraging responses. For instance, T cells recognizing immunogenic viral antigens are effective when infused in immunosuppressed patients. A large number of tumor antigens are also expressed on nonviral tumors, but these antigens are less immunogenic. Many tumors can evade a transferred immune response by producing variants, which have lost the targeted antigens, or inhibitory molecules that recruit suppressive cells, impeding persistence and function of immune effectors. Nevertheless, infusion of antigen-specific T cells has been well-tolerated, and clinical responses have been consistently associated with immune activity against tumor antigens and epitope spreading. To overcome some of the obstacles mentioned above, current research is focused on defining ex vivo culture conditions that promote in vivo persistence and activity of infused antigen-specific T cells. Combinations with immune checkpoint inhibitors or epigenetic modifiers to improve T-cell activity are also being evaluated in the clinic. Antigen-specific T cells may also be manufactured to overcome tumor evasion mechanisms by targeting multiple antigens and engineered to be resistant to inhibitory factors, such as TGFbeta, or to produce the cytokines that are essential for T-cell expansion and sustained antitumor activity. Here, we discuss the use of T cells specific to tumor antigens through their native receptors and strategies under investigation to improve antitumor responses.