Background Multiple myeloma (MM) remains an incurable hematological malignancy where a proportion of patients relapse or become refractory to current treatments. Administration of autologous T cells modified with a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) against B cell maturation antigen (BCMA) has achieved high percentages of complete responses. Unfortunately, the lack of persistence of CART-BCMA cells in the patient leads to relapses. On the other side, cord-blood derived natural killer cells (CB-NK) is an off-the-shelf cellular immunotherapy option to treat cancer patients with high potential due to their anti-tumor activity. However, clinical results in patients up to date have been sub-optimal. Whereas CB-NK are innate immune cells and their anti-tumor activity is developed in a few hours, CART cells are adaptive immune cells and their activity develops at later time points. Moreover, we previously described that CB-NK secrete inflammatory proteins that promote the early formation of tumor-immune cell clusters bringing cells into close contact and thus, facilitating the anti-tumor activity of T cells. Therefore, we hypothesized that the addition of a small number of CB-NK to CART cells would improve the anti-tumor activity and increase the persistence of CART cells.
Methods T cells transduced with a humanized CAR against BCMA and CB-NK were employed at 1:0.5 (CART:CB-NK) ratio. Cytotoxicity assays, activation markers and immune-tumor cell cluster formation were evaluated by flow cytometry and fluorescence microscopy. In vivo models were performed in NSG mice.
Results The addition of CB-NK to CART cells demonstrated higher anti-MM efficacy at low E:T ratios during the first 24h and in long-term cytotoxicity assays, where the addition of CB-NK to CART cells achieved complete removal of tumor cells. Analysis of activation marker CD69 and CD107a degranulation from 4h to 24h of co-culturing proved differences only at 4h, where CD69 and CD107a in CART cells were increased when CB-NK were present. Moreover, CB-NK accelerated an increased formation of CART-tumor cell clusters facilitating the removal of MM cells. Of note, CB-NK addition did not increase total TNFα and IFNγ production. Finally, an in vivo model of advanced MM with consecutive challenge to MM cells evidenced that the addition of CB-NK achieved the highest efficacy of the treatment.
Conclusions Our results suggest that the addition of ‘off-the-shelf’ CB-NK to CART cells leads to a faster and earlier immune response of CART cells with higher long-term maintenance of the anti-tumor response, suggesting this combinatorial therapy as an attractive immunotherapy option for MM patients.
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