CCR5 is the major coreceptor for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). We investigated whether site-specific modification of the gene ("gene editing")--in this case, the infusion of autologous CD4 T cells in which the CCR5 gene was rendered permanently dysfunctional by a zinc-finger nuclease (ZFN)--is safe.
MAGE A3, which belongs to the family of cancer-testis antigens, is an attractive target for adoptive therapy given its reactivation in various tumors and limited expression in normal tissues. We developed an affinity-enhanced T cell receptor (TCR) directed to a human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-A*01-restricted MAGE A3 antigen (EVDPIGHLY) for use in adoptive therapy. Extensive preclinical investigations revealed no off-target antigen recognition concerns; nonetheless, administration to patients of T cells expressing the affinity-enhanced MAGE A3 TCR resulted in a serious adverse event (SAE) and fatal toxicity against cardiac tissue. We present a description of the preclinical in vitro functional analysis of the MAGE A3 TCR, which failed to reveal any evidence of off-target activity, and a full analysis of the post-SAE in vitro investigations, which reveal cross-recognition of an off-target peptide. Using an amino acid scanning approach, a peptide from the muscle protein Titin (ESDPIVAQY) was identified as an alternative target for the MAGE A3 TCR and the most likely cause of in vivo toxicity. These results demonstrate that affinity-enhanced TCRs have considerable effector functions in vivo and highlight the potential safety concerns for TCR-engineered T cells. Strategies such as peptide scanning and the use of more complex cell cultures are recommended in preclinical studies to mitigate the risk of off-target toxicity in future clinical investigations.
An obstacle to cancer immunotherapy has been that the affinity of T-cell receptors (TCRs) for antigens expressed in tumors is generally low. We initiated clinical testing of engineered T cells expressing an affinity-enhanced TCR against HLA-A*01-restricted MAGE-A3. Open-label protocols to test the TCRs for patients with myeloma and melanoma were initiated. The first two treated patients developed cardiogenic shock and died within a few days of T-cell infusion, events not predicted by preclinical studies of the high-affinity TCRs. Gross findings at autopsy revealed severe myocardial damage, and histopathological analysis revealed T-cell infiltration. No MAGE-A3 expression was detected in heart autopsy tissues. Robust proliferation of the engineered T cells in vivo was documented in both patients. A beating cardiomyocyte culture generated from induced pluripotent stem cells triggered T-cell killing, which was due to recognition of an unrelated peptide derived from the striated muscle-specific protein titin. These patients demonstrate that TCR-engineered T cells can have serious and not readily predictable off-target and organ-specific toxicities and highlight the need for improved methods to define the specificity of engineered TCRs.
Since HIV requires CD4 and a co-receptor, most commonly C-C chemokine receptor 5 (CCR5), for cellular entry, targeting CCR5 expression is an attractive approach for therapy of HIV infection. Treatment of CD4(+) T cells with zinc-finger protein nucleases (ZFNs) specifically disrupting chemokine receptor CCR5 coding sequences induces resistance to HIV infection in vitro and in vivo. A chimeric Ad5/F35 adenoviral vector encoding CCR5-ZFNs permitted efficient delivery and transient expression following anti-CD3/anti-CD28 costimulation of T lymphocytes. We present data showing CD3/CD28 costimulation substantially improved transduction efficiency over reported methods for Ad5/F35 transduction of T lymphocytes. Modifications to the laboratory scale process, incorporating clinically compatible reagents and methods, resulted in a robust ex vivo manufacturing process capable of generating >10(10) CCR5 gene-edited CD4+ T cells from healthy and HIV+ donors. CD4+ T-cell phenotype, cytokine production, and repertoire were comparable between ZFN-modified and control cells. Following consultation with regulatory authorities, we conducted in vivo toxicity studies that showed no detectable ZFN-specific toxicity or T-cell transformation. Based on these findings, we initiated a clinical trial testing the safety and feasibility of CCR5 gene-edited CD4+ T-cell transfer in study subjects with HIV-1 infection.
Persistence of T cells engineered with chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) has been a major barrier to use of these cells for molecularly targeted adoptive immunotherapy. To address this issue, we created a series of CARs that contain the T cell receptor-zeta (TCR-zeta) signal transduction domain with the CD28 and/or CD137 (4-1BB) intracellular domains in tandem. After short-term expansion, primary human T cells were subjected to lentiviral gene transfer, resulting in large numbers of cells with >85% CAR expression. In an immunodeficient mouse xenograft model of primary human pre-B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, human T cells expressing anti-CD19 CARs containing CD137 exhibited the greatest antileukemic efficacy and prolonged (>6 months) survival in vivo, and were significantly more effective than cells expressing CARs containing TCR-zeta alone or CD28-zeta signaling receptors. We uncovered a previously unrecognized, antigen-independent effect of CARs expressing the CD137 cytoplasmic domain that likely contributes to the enhanced antileukemic efficacy and survival in tumor bearing mice. Furthermore, our studies revealed significant discrepancies between in vitro and in vivo surrogate measures of CAR efficacy. Together these results suggest that incorporation of the CD137 signaling domain in CARs should improve the persistence of CARs in the hematologic malignancies and hence maximize their antitumor activity.
Lentiviral vector-based gene therapy has been used to target the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) using an antisense env payload. We have analyzed lentiviral-vector integration sites from three treated individuals. We compared integration sites from the ex vivo vector-transduced CD4+ cell products to sites from cells recovered at several times after infusion. Integration sites were analyzed using 454 pyrosequencing, yielding a total of 7,782 unique integration sites from the ex vivo product and 237 unique sites from cells recovered after infusion. Integrated vector copies in both data sets were found to be strongly enriched within active genes and near epigenetic marks associated with active transcription units. Analysis of integration relative to nucleosome structure on target DNA indicated favoring of integration in outward facing DNA major grooves on the nucleosome surface. There was no indication that growth of transduced cells after infusion resulted in enrichment for integration sites near proto-oncogene 5-ends or within tumor suppressor genes. Thus, this first look at the longitudinal evolution of cells transduced with a lentiviral vector after infusion of gene modified CD4+ cells provided no evidence for abnormal expansions of cells due to vector-mediated insertional activation of proto-oncogenes.
We report the safety and tolerability of 87 infusions of lentiviral vector–modified autologous CD4 T cells (VRX496-T; trade name, Lexgenleucel-T) in 17 HIV patients with well-controlled viremia. Antiviral effects were studied during analytic treatment interruption in a subset of 13 patients. VRX496-T was associated with a decrease in viral load set points in 6 of 8 subjects (P = .08). In addition, A ? G transitions were enriched in HIV sequences after infusion, which is consistent with a model in which transduced CD4 T cells exert antisense-mediated genetic pressure on HIV during infection. Engraftment of vector-modified CD4 T cells was measured in gut-associated lymphoid tissue and was correlated with engraftment in blood. The engraftment half-life in the blood was approximately 5 weeks, with stable persistence in some patients for up to 5 years. Conditional replication of VRX496 was detected periodically through 1 year after infusion. No evidence of clonal selection of lentiviral vector–transduced T cells or integration enrichment near oncogenes was detected. This is the first demonstration that gene-modified cells can exert genetic pressure on HIV. We conclude that gene-modified T cells have the potential to decrease the fitness of HIV-1 and conditionally replicative lentiviral vectors have a promising safety profile in T cells.
The success of adoptive T cell gene transfer for treatment of cancer and HIV is predicated on generating a response that is both durable and safe. We report long-term results from three clinical trials to evaluate gammaretroviral vector-engineered T cells for HIV. The vector encoded a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) composed of CD4 linked to the CD3? signaling chain (CD4?). CAR T cells were detected in 98% of samples tested for at least 11 years after infusion at frequencies that exceeded average T cell levels after most vaccine approaches. The CD4? transgene retained expression and function. There was no evidence of vector-induced immortalization of cells; integration site distributions showed no evidence of persistent clonal expansion or enrichment for integration sites near genes implicated in growth control or transformation. The CD4? T cells had stable levels of engraftment, with decay half-lives that exceeded 16 years, in marked contrast to previous trials testing engineered T cells. These findings indicate that host immunosuppression before T cell transfer is not required to achieve long-term persistence of gene-modified T cells. Further, our results emphasize the safety of T cells modified by retroviral gene transfer in clinical application, as measured in >500 patient-years of follow-up. Thus, previous safety issues with integrating viral vectors are hematopoietic stem cell or transgene intrinsic, and not a general feature of retroviral vectors. Engineered T cells are a promising form of synthetic biology for long-term delivery of protein-based therapeutics. These results provide a framework to guide the therapy of a wide spectrum of human diseases.
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