Background Cell therapy, with all its promise as a powerful solid-tumor modality, is still hampered by the fundamental obstacle of cancer therapy: the acute shortage of truly tumor-specific targets. It is well known that an average tumor contains loss of heterozygosity (LOH) at an astonishing frequency: ~20% genome wide. These losses are irreversible and absolutely distinguish the cancer from normal cells.
Methods We describe a novel approach to cancer immunotherapy that draws on LOH as a large, so far untapped source of cancer targets. To exploit such allelic losses, we focus on polymorphic loci and target the remaining allelic product of a locus that has LOH. We engineer T cells with a modular signal-integration circuit designed to be activated only by tumor cells that have lost expression of one specific allele on their surface.
Results We use the HLA locus which undergoes LOH at a frequency of 13%, and the HLA-A*02 allele specifically, as proof of concept. We present a large body of quantitative in vitro data, along with in vivo data, that support the use of a synthetic signal-integration circuit called Tmod as a cancer therapy. We also describe Tmod’s mechanistic properties, including thorough structure/function analysis of its components.
Conclusions LOH is a rich source of new targets, provided a system of sufficient power can be devised to exploit them. Our Tmod signal integration system confers on engineered T cells the capacity to discriminate effectively between normal and tumor cells that contain specific allelic losses.
Ethics Approval The animal study was approved by Explora BioLabs’ Ethics Board, protocol number EB17-010-059
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