Background Whilst delivering impressive clinical efficacy in certain hematological malignancies, Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T cell therapy has yet to deliver significant clinical impact across a broader array of cancer indications. Armoring CAR T through the co-expression of immune modifying cytokines is an approach that may aid anti-cancer activity but is currently at an embryonic stage of development. In this study, the potential benefit of expressing IL-18 alongside a NKG2D CAR was assessed.
Methods A series of retroviral vectors encoding the NKG2D CAR (a fusion of NKG2D with CD3z), a cell surface tag to facilitate cell selection and tracking (truncated CD19) either with or without full length IL-18 were compared. In certain vectors, a single shRNA targeting CD3z was included to generate allogeneic CAR T versions. All transgenes were delivered as a single vector expressed under the control of the retroviral promoter with individual 2A elements ensuring equimolar levels of protein expression. T cells transduced with the individual vectors were challenged in vitro and in vivo to determine the impact of IL-18 upon NKG2D CAR directed function.
Results Armored NKG2D CAR T cells that included the IL-18 transgene showed high levels of IL-18 secretion in culture and increased levels of interferon gamma secretion upon antigen challenge as compared to non-armored NKG2D CAR T cells. Armored NKG2D CAR T cells also showed prolonged sequential target cell killing as compared to non-armored CAR T versions. Importantly, in an in vivo stress test where the dose of non-armored NKG2D T cells was reduced to a level where minimal anti-tumor activity and survival above control was seen using an established THP-1 model, armored CAR T cells showed enhanced anti-tumor activity (as determined by bioluminescence) and overall survival. Interestingly, at high doses of armored CAR T cells, toxicity was seen in some tumor bearing models. This toxicity was abrogated by systemic infusion of human IL-18 binding protein (IL-18BP).
Conclusions Armoring NKG2D CAR T cells with IL-18 resulting in increased in vitro and in vivo target-dependent anti-tumor activity. The transient toxicity observed with high doses of the armored CAR T in tumor bearing models was eliminated by IL-18BP. Together, these observations imply that armoring NKG2D CAR T cells with IL-18 is likely to drive improved anti-tumor activity of the CAR T cell in line with previous publications1 2 while the presence of systemic IL-18BP3 should negate possible toxicities arising from high level constitutive expression of the cytokine.
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Hu B, Ren J, Luo Y, Keith B, Young R, Scholler J, Zhao Y, June C. Cell Reports 2017; 20(13): 3025–30333.
Dinarello C, Novick D, Kim S, Kaplamski G. Frontiers in Immunology 2013;4;289
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