Background Despite the remarkable efficacy achieved by CAR-T therapy in hematologic malignancies, application in solid tumors has been challenging. We previously developed human CAR-M and demonstrated that adoptive cell transfer of CAR-M into xenograft models of human cancer controls tumor progression and improves overall survival . Given that CAR-M are professional antigen presenting cells, we developed an immunocompetent animal model to evaluate the potential for induction of a systemic anti-tumor immune response.
Methods Murine bone marrow-derived macrophages were engineered to express an anti-HER2 CAR using the chimeric adenoviral vector Ad5f35. CAR-M were phenotypically and functionally evaluated in vitro and in syngeneic models. To evaluate CAR-M efficacy in an immunocompetent animal model, BALB/c mice were engrafted with CT26-HER2+ tumors (single-tumor model) and were treated with intratumoral CAR-HER2 or untransduced (UTD) macrophages. To evaluate epitope spreading, we simultaneously engrafted BALB/c mice with CT26-HER2+ and CT26-Wt tumors on opposite flanks (dual-tumor model), and treated mice with CAR-M or controls into the CT26-HER2+ tumor only. Peripheral and tumor-infiltrating immune cells were phenotypically and functionally characterized.
Results In addition to efficient gene delivery, Ad5f35 transduction promoted a pro-inflammatory (M1) phenotype in murine macrophages. CAR-M, but not control UTD macrophages, phagocytosed HER2+ target cancer cells. Anti-HER2 CAR-M eradicated HER2+ murine CT26 colorectal and human AU-565 breast cancer cells in a dose-dependent manner. CAR-M increased MHC-I and MHC-II expression on tumor cells and promoted tumor-associated antigen presentation and T cell activation. In vivo, CAR-M treatment led to tumor regression and improved overall survival in the CT26-HER2+ single-tumor model. In the dual-tumor model, CAR-M treatment cleared 75% of CT26-HER2+ tumors and inhibited the growth rate of contralateral CT26-WT tumors, demonstrating an abscopal effect. CAR-M treatment led to increased infiltration of intratumoral CD4+ and CD8+ T, NK, and dendritic cells – as well as an increase in T cell responsiveness to the CT26 MHC-I antigen gp70, indicating enhanced epitope spreading. Given the impact CAR-M had on endogenous T-cell immunity, we evaluated the combination of CAR-M and anti-PD1 in the CT26-HER2 model and found that the combination further enhanced tumor control and overall survival.
Conclusions These results demonstrate that CAR-M therapy induces epitope spreading via activation of endogenous T cells, orchestrating a systemic immune response against solid tumors. Moreover, our findings provide rationale for the combination of CAR-M with immune checkpoint inhibitors. The anti-HER2 CAR-M CT-0508 will be evaluated in an upcoming Phase I clinical trial.
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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