Background We have previously developed CAR-M as a novel cell therapy approach for the treatment of solid tumors.1 CAR-M have the potential to overcome key challenges that cell therapies face in the solid tumor setting – tumor infiltration, immunosuppression, lymphocyte exclusion – and can induce epitope spreading to overcome target antigen heterogeneity. While macrophages transduced with the adenoviral vector Ad5f35 (Ad CAR-M) traffic to tumors, provide robust anti-tumor activity, and recruit and activate T cells, we sought to identify a robust non-viral method of macrophage engineering in order to reduce the cost of goods, manufacturing complexity, and potential immunogenicity associated with viral vectors.
Methods As innate immune cells, macrophages detect exogenous nucleic acids and respond with inflammatory and apoptotic programs. Thus, we sought to identify a means of mRNA delivery that avoids recognition by innate immune sensors. We screened a broad panel of mRNA encoding an anti-HER2 CAR comprising multiplexed 5’Cap and base modifications using an optimized and scalable electroporation approach and evaluated the impact of interferon-β priming on CAR-M phenotype and function.
Results We identified the optimal multiplexed mRNA modifications that led to maximal macrophage viability, transfection efficiency, intensity of CAR expression, and duration of expression. Non-viral HER2 CAR-M phagocytosed and killed human HER2+ tumor cells. Unlike Ad CAR-M, mRNA CAR-M were not skewed toward an M1 state by mRNA electroporation. Priming non-viral CAR-M with IFN-β induced a durable M1 phenotype, as shown by stable upregulation of numerous M1 markers and pathways. IFN-β priming significantly enhanced the anti-tumor activity of CAR but not control macrophages. IFN-β primed mRNA CAR-M were resistant to M2 conversion, maintaining an M1 phenotype despite challenge with various immunosuppressive factors, and converted bystander M2 macrophages toward M1. Interestingly, priming mRNA CAR-M with IFN-β significantly enhanced the persistence of CAR expression, overcoming the known issue of rapid mRNA turnover. RNA-seq analysis revealed that IFN-β priming affected pathways involved in increasing translation and decreasing RNA degradation in human macrophages.
Conclusions We have established a novel, optimized non-viral CAR-M platform based on chemically modified mRNA and IFN-β priming. IFN-β priming induced a durable M1 phenotype, improved CAR expression, improved CAR persistence, led to enhanced anti-tumor function, and rendered resistance to immunosuppressive factors. This novel platform is amenable to scale-up, GMP manufacturing, and represents an advance in the development of CAR-M.
Klichinsky M, Ruella M, Shestova O, et al. Human chimeric antigen receptor macrophages for cancer immunotherapy. Nat Biotechnol 2020;38(8):947–953.
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