Next-day manufacture of a novel anti-CD19 CAR-T therapy for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia: first-in-human clinical study | Blood Cancer Journal…

Preclinical evaluation of FasT CAR-T cellsFasT CAR-T (F-CAR-T) proliferation in vitro

To characterize the in vitro proliferative capacity of F-CAR-T cells, F-CAR-T and C-CAR-T cells were manufactured in parallel (Supplementary Methods, and Fig. S1) using T-cells from 6 B-ALL patients. To investigate the ex vivo proliferation of F-CAR-T, frozen CD19 F-CAR-T and C-CAR-T cells from each patient were thawed and stimulated with irradiated CD19-expressing K562 cells. The number of CD19-targeting CAR-T cells was then determined during the course of cell expansion in vitro. As shown in Fig. 1A, upon CD19 antigen stimulation, F-CAR-T proliferation was much more robust compared to C-CAR-T proliferation. On day 17 post co-culture, F-CAR-T expanded 1205.61226.3 fold (MeanSD), while C-CAR-T expanded only 116.437.2 fold (MeanSD), (p=0.001). To characterize the mechanism underlying the superior proliferative ability of F-CAR-T, we purified CD19+ CAR-T cells from both F-CAR-T and C-CAR-T. The expression of genes involved in cell proliferation, cell cycle, and apoptosis was analyzed using Nanostring (detailed gene sets are in Table S2). Gene expression profiles showed higher F-CAR-T expression scores for genes associated with cell cycle regulation (F-CAR-T vs. C-CAR-T, p<0.01) and lower expression scores for apoptosis-related genes (F-CAR-T vs. C-CAR-T, p<0.05) in F-CAR-T cells (Fig. S2A).

A Ex vivo cell proliferation of F-CAR-T and C-CAR-T derived from B-ALL patients (n=6) (***P=0.001, F-CAR-T vs. C-CAR-T, d17, unpaired student two-tailed t-test). B Tscm, Tcm, and Tem were characterized by surface staining of CD45RO and CD62L and analyzed with flow cytometry (***P<0.001 comparing F-CAR-T and C-CAR-T). C T-cell exhaustion was characterized by PD-1, LAG3, and TIM-3 staining; Statistical analyses of the percentage of PD1+ LAG3+ Tim3+ (***P<0.001, comparing F-CAR-T and C-CAR-T), unpaired student two-tailed t-test). D RTCA assay was used to examine the specific killing of HeLa-CD19 cells. Growth of target HeLa-CD19 or HeLa cells were monitored dynamically. E CD19+ target Nalm6-Luc cells or F Raji-Luc cells were co-cultured with either F-CAR-T or C-CAR-T for 6h. Target cell killing efficacy was calculated by luciferase activity. NS, P>0.05 F-CAR-T vs. C-CAR-T (unpaired student t-test, two-tailed). F-CAR-T FasT CAR-T, C-CAR-T conventional CAR-T, Tcm (CD45RO+CD62L+) T central memory cells, Tem (CD45RO+CD62L) T effector memory cells, Tscm (CD45ROCD62L+) T stem cell memory, PD1 programmed cell death protein 1, TIM-3 T cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain containing-3, LAG3 lymphocyte-activation gene 3, RTCA real-time cell analyzer, E:T effector cells: target cells, NT normal T-cell.

Phenotypes of unstimulated F-CAR-T from three healthy donors were analyzed by flow cytometry. The CD45ROCD62L+ population was 45.7%2.2% which was comparable to the un-transduced T-cells (data not shown). Upon stimulation with CD19+ tumor cells for 9 days, C-CAR-T central memory cells (Tcm, CD45RO+CD62L+ and effector memory cells (Tem, CD45RO+CD62L) were 56.62%11.97% and 40.48%9.70%, respectively, among the C-CAR-T cells (Fig. 1B and Figs. S2B and S2). In contrast, Tcm cells (87.92%4.36%) was predominant in F-CAR-T, with only a small fraction of Tem (7.84%3.79%). In addition, F-CAR-T cells demonstrated more abundant T stem cell memory (Tscm) (3.841.22% vs 2.342.48%, p<0.05) than C-CAR-T cells. We also examined the exhaustion status of the stimulated CAR-T cells. A higher percentage of PD-1+LAG3+Tim3+T-cells were detected in the C-CAR-T (11.19%2.54%) compared to F-CAR-T (3.59%2.51%, p<0.001) (Fig. 1C). Together these data indicated that the F-CAR-T exhibited a younger phenotype and was less exhausted compared to C-CAR-T.

We used a real-time cell analyzer (RTCA) assay to measure the cytotoxicity of F-CAR-T and C-CAR-T against CD19+ cells in vitro. F-CAR-T and C-CAR-T killing of Hela-CD19 target cells were comparable using this assay (Fig. 1D). Similar levels of IFN- and IL-2 production were also observed (Fig. S2D). In a luciferase-based cytotoxicity assay, CD19+ B leukemia cell lines, Raji and Nalm6, were both effectively killed to similar or better levels at different E:T ratios (Fig. 1E, F).

To compare the in vivo cytotoxicity of F-CAR-T and C-CAR-T, severe immunodeficient NOG mice were engrafted with Raji-luciferase cells. One week after the tumor grafts were established, F-CAR-T and C-CAR-T were intravenously injected at various doses. The engrafted tumors progressed aggressively in control groups with either vehicle alone or control T-cells (Fig. 2A). In contrast, F-CAR-T or C-CAR-T treatment greatly suppressed tumor growth in a dose-dependent manner (Fig. 2A). In the high dose group (2106/mice), both F-CAR-T and C-CAR-T eliminated the tumor rapidly. However, in the low dose group (5105/mice), F-CAR-T showed more effective tumor-killing compared to C-CAR-T. On day 20, mice in the low dose F-CAR-T group became tumor-free, while C-CAR-T treated mice exhibited tumor relapse (Fig. 2A). We examined the CAR-T cell expansion in vivo after infusion. As shown in Fig. 2B, both F-CAR-T and C-CAR-T began to expand in the peripheral blood 7 days after infusion. C-CAR-T cell numbers reached their peak on day 14 and receded on day 21. In contrast, the F-CAR-T cell number peaked on day 21 and declined to a baseline level on day 28. F-CAR-T not only persisted longer but also underwent 26 folds greater expansion than C-CAR-T (Fig. 2B).

A Raji-Luc cell engraftment NOG mice were given high dose (2106/mice, n=3) and low dose (5105/mice, n=3) F-CAR-T/C-CAR-T along with control groups. Tumor growth was monitored with IVIS scan once every 3 days; B CAR-T expansion in peripheral blood of mice was analyzed by flow cytometry (n=6). ***P<0.001 for F-CAR-T HD vs. C-CAR-T HD; F-CAR-T LD vs. C-CAR-T LD; F-CAR-T HD vs. F-CAR-T LD; C-CAR-T HD vs. C-CAR-T LD (two-way ANOVA statistical analysis); C Schematic of the Nalm6 (1106) xenograft model, CAR-T (2106) infused 1 day after cyclophosphamide (20mg/kg) treatment. Bone marrow infiltration of F-CAR-T was analyzed 10 days after CAR-T infusion (n=3); D CD45+CD2 F-CAR-T vs. C-CAR-T in peripheral blood of mice were analyzed by flow cytometry; *P<0.05 (unpaired student two-tailed t-test). IVIS in vivo imaging system, PB peripheral blood, i.v. intravenous, HD high dose, LD low dose, Cy cyclophosphamide; *p<0.05; #: number.

We examined the BM infiltration of F-CAR-T cells after infusion into Nalm6-bearing mice (Fig. 2C). A larger population of CAR-T cells was observed 10 days after infusion in BM in F-CAR-T infused group than that in the C-CAR-T group (p<0.05) (Fig. 2D), suggesting F-CAR-T cells possessed a better BM homing capability than C-CAR-T.

The chemokine receptor CXCR4 is known to be critical for BM homing of T-cells [25, 26]. Indeed, a higher percentage of CXCR4+ T cells were detected in F-CAR-T than in the C-CAR-T. Interestingly, this phenotype was more pronounced for CD4+ T cells than CD8+ T cells (Fig. S3A). In a two-chamber system, more F-CAR-T cells could be detected in the lower chamber than their C-CAR-T counterparts (Fig. S3B).

Between Jan. 2019 and Oct. 2019, 25 pediatric and adult patients with CD19+R/R B-ALL were enrolled onto our phase 1 trial, including two patients who had relapsed following a prior allo-HSCT. Patient characteristics are detailed in Table 1. The median age of patients was 20 (range: 344) years old. Twenty patients were >14 years old, and five were 14 years old. The median percentage of pre-treatment BM blasts was 9.05% (range: 0.1982.9%). As our pre-clinical studies demonstrated that F-CAR-T cells had a superior expansion capability as compared to C-CAR-T, we infused a relatively low doses of F-CAR-T cells, ranging from 104105 cells/kg: 3.0104 cells/kg (n=2), 6.5 (5.867.43)104 cells/kg (n=9), 1.01 (1.01.16)105 cells/kg (n=12), 1.52(1.471.56)105 cells/kg (n=2), (Fig. S4). The median time from apheresis to the infusion of CD19+F-CAR-T cells was 14 days (range: 1220). Although the manufacturing time of F-CAR-T was next day, the quality control time and detailed final product releases including sterility testing require a minimum of 710 days to complete. In addition, transportation of cell products requires approximately two days. Of the 25 patients who received CD19 F-CAR-T infusion, 22 (88%) received bridging chemotherapy between apheresis and lymphodepleting chemotherapy to control rapid disease progression (Table S3).

F-CAR-T cells were manufactured successfully for all patients. The mean transduction efficiency of F-CAR-T was 35.4% (range: 13.170.3%) (Fig. S5A). Both CD4+/CAR+ (mean, 49.6%; range: 13.673.2%) and CD8+/CAR+ (mean, 41.5%; range: 20.677.7%) subsets were present in the CD3+CAR+ T cell subsets of all products. The mean proportion of Tscm, Tem, and Tcm cells in the CD3+CAR+ T cell subsets of all products was 23.3% (range: 3.5545.3%), 33.2% (range: 17.267.9%), and 36.1% (range: 20.758.1%), respectively (Fig. S5B). F-CAR-T products exerted significant IFN- release and cytotoxic effects against the CD19+ cell line HELA-CD19 (Fig. S5, C, D).

All 25 infused patients experienced adverse events (AEs) of any grade, with 25 (100%) experiencing grade 3 or higher adverse events. No grade 5 events related to F-CAR-T treatment were observed (Table 2).

CRS occurred in 24 (96%) patients with 18 (72%) grade 12 CRS,6 (24%) of grade 3, and no grade 4 or higher CRS (Fig. S6). In the >14 years old group, 16/20 (80%) patients developed mild CRS, and only 2/20 (10%) developed grade 3 CRS. For 14 years old patients, 2/5 (40%) had mild CRS, yet 3/5 (60%) experienced grade 3 CRS (Table S4). ICANS was observed in 7 (28%) patients, with 2 (8%) grade 3 ICANS occurring in patients >14 years old and 5 (20%) grade 4 ICANS all occurring in patients 14 years old. No grade 5 ICANS was developed (Fig. S7 and Table S4). The most frequent presentation of CRS was fever, particularly a high fever of >39C. The first onset of CRS symptoms occurred between day 3 and 8 post-CAR-T infusion with a median onset at day 4 (range: 110 days). The most common symptoms of ICANS were seizure (5/7) and depressed consciousness (5/7). The median time to ICANS onset from CAR-T cell infusion was 7 days (range: 58), and the median time to resolution was 2 days (Fig. S7). All CRS and ICANS events were managed including early intervention when fever of 39C persisted for 24h. Sixteen (64%) patients received tocilizumab with a median total dose of 160mg (range: 160320mg). Twenty-one (84%) patients received corticosteroids including dexamethasone (median total dose, 43mg; range: 4127mg) and or methylprednisolone (median total dose, 190mg; range: 401070mg). The vast majority of these patients discontinued corticosteroids within 2 weeks. The change in IL-6, IFN-, IL-10, and GM-CSF levels after infusion are selectively shown in Fig. S8. The peak levels of these four cytokines were observed between day 710. Among all 21 cytokines examined, only post-infusion IL-6 levels were associated with moderate to severe CRS and/or ICANS (Figs. S9 and S10).

Superior in vivo proliferation and persistence of F-CAR-T compared to C-CAR-T cells were observed regardless of dose levels. The median peak level was reached on day 10 (range: 714 days) with 1.9105 transgene copies/g of genomic DNA (range: 0.225.2105 transgene copies/g of genomic DNA) by qPCR and 83 F-CAR-T cells per l blood (range: 42102 F-CAR-T cells per l blood) by FCM (Fig. 3A, B). No significant differences were observed among the different dose groups in the mean F-CAR-T copies peak (Fig. 3C). Importantly, there was no significant difference in the mean F-CAR-T copies peak between patients who received corticosteroids compared to those who did not (Fig. 3D).

A F-CAR-T cells in peripheral blood by qPCR. Purple, dose level 1; black, dose level 2; blue, dose level 3; red, dose level 4; B F-CAR-T cells in peripheral blood by flow cytometry. Purple, dose level 1; black, dose level 2; blue, dose level 3; red, dose level 4; C Comparison of the mean peak copy number of F-CAR-T cells in peripheral blood at each dose level. Statistical significance was determined by the MannWhitney test. D Comparison of the mean peak copy number of F-CAR-T cells in peripheral blood with or without steroids. Statistical significance was determined by the MannWhitney test.

Fourteen days after F-CAR-T cell infusion, all patients achieved morphologic CR including 2/25 with CR and 23/25 CR with incomplete hematologic recovery (CRi), which further improved to 11/25 CR and 14/25 CRi 28 days post F-CAR-T (Table 1 and Fig. 4). More importantly, 23/25 (92%) had the minimal residual disease (MRD)-negative remission on day 14 and day 28 after F-CAR-T treatment. Patients achieving remission through CAR-T were given the option to proceed to allo-HSCT. With a median time of 54 days (range: 4581 days) post F-CAR-T infusion, 20 of 23 patients with MRD-negative status decided to pursue consolidative allo-HSCT including one patient who received a 2nd transplant. As of 18 October 2021, with a median follow-up duration of 693 days (range: 84973 days) among the 20 patients who had received allo-HSCT, one patient relapsed on day 172 and died 3 months after relapse, and four patients died from transplant-related mortality (TRM) including infection (n=3) and chronic GVHD (n=1) on day 84, day 215, day 220, and day 312, respectively. The other 15 patients remained in MRD-negative CR with a median remission duration of 734 days (range: 208973) except for one who became MRD-positive on day 294 with CD19+ disease. Among the other three patients (F05, F06, F16), one remained in MRD-negative CR on day 304, one remained in MRD-negative CR until day 303, received allo-HSCT but died from an infection on day 505, and one was lost to follow-up after day 114. Two patients who had MRD-positive CR after infusion withdrew from the study on day 42 and day 44, respectively, to seek other studies.

Clinical outcomes and consolidative allo-HSCT for the 25 patients who were treated with F-CAR-T therapy are shown. On day 28, 23/25 patients achieved MRD-negative CR/CRi. With a median time of 54 days (range: 4581) post F-CAR-T infusion, 20 of 23 patients with MRD-negative status received consolidative allo-HSCT. Among the 20 patients, 1 patient (F23) relapsed on day 172 and died 3 months after relapse. Four patients (F04, F09, F11, F12) died from transplant-related mortality (TRM) including infection (n=3) and chronic GVHD (n=1) on day 84, day 215, day 220, and day 312, respectively. The remaining 15 patients were in MRD-negative CR except for one (F18) who became MRD-positive on day 294. Among the other 3 patients (F05, F06, F16), 1 remained MRD-negative CR on day 304, 1 remained in MRD-negative CR until day 303, received allo-HSCT, and subsequently died from an infection on day 505. One patient was lost to follow-up after day 114. MRD minimal residual disease, CR complete remission, Allo-HSCT allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.

F-CAR-T/T ratio in cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) was evaluated by FCM in 13/25 patients with available samples (Table S5). Between days 10 and 32, 9 patients were found to have considerable F-CAR-T penetration in their CSF, ranging from 40.65 to 79.2%, including 4 who developed severe ICANS. Among the other 4 patients, F-CAR-T cell abundance in the CSF ranged from 1.29% to 3.57%, and none experienced severe ICANS. Patients with higher levels of CAR-T in PB on day 10 consistently had higher levels of CAR-T in CSF with the exception of patient F15. Notably, CAR-T cells were still detectable in the CSF on day 101 with a 2.36% CAR-T/T ratio in patient F06, who also had undetectable circulating CAR-T cells at the same time.

In addition, concentrations of seven cytokines (IL-1b, IL-6, IL-10, IFN-, TNF-, MCP-1, and GM-CSF) in CSF samples from the above 10 of 13 patients were measured. Specifically, IL-1b was not detected in any of the 10 patients, and only one patient had detectable GM-CSF. For the other five cytokines, patients with severe ICANS had higher IL-6 levels in contrast to patients without severe ICANS, and the difference between the median level of IL-6 among these two groups of patients was statistically significant (Fig. S11). We did not observe significant differences among the other 4 cytokines between the two groups of patients. No clear relation between the CSF cytokine levels and the F-CAR-T/T % was observed.

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Next-day manufacture of a novel anti-CD19 CAR-T therapy for B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia: first-in-human clinical study | Blood Cancer Journal...

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