-Author name in bold denotes the presenting author
-Asterisk * with author name denotes a Non-ASH member
Clinically Relevant Abstract denotes an abstract that is clinically relevant.

PhD Trainee denotes that this is a recommended PHD Trainee Session.

Ticketed Session denotes that this is a ticketed session.

961 GM-CSF Blockade during Chimeric Antigen Receptor T Cell Therapy Reduces Cytokine Release Syndrome and Neurotoxicity and May Enhance Their Effector FunctionsClinically Relevant Abstract

Program: Oral and Poster Abstracts
Type: Oral
Session: 703. Adoptive Immunotherapy: Preclinical Studies to Improve Safety and Efficacy of CAR-T Cells
Hematology Disease Topics & Pathways:
Biological, Therapies, CAR-Ts, gene therapy, immunotherapy
Monday, December 3, 2018: 4:30 PM
San Diego Ballroom B (Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina)

Rosalie M. Sterner1, Reona Sakemura, MD, PhD2,3*, Nan Yang, MD2,3*, Michelle J. Cox2,3*, Roman H. Khadka1*, Cynthia L. Forsman, PhD2,3*, Michael J. Hansen1*, Fang Jin1*, Katayoun Ayasoufi1*, Mehrdad Hefazi, MD2,3, Baustin M. Welch1*, Kendall J. Schick3,4*, Denise K Walters, PhD1*, German Martinez1*, Omar Ahmed5*, Tarek Sahmoud5*, Cameron Durrant5*, Wendy K. Nevala1*, Mrinal M. Patnaik, MD, MBBS2, Stephen J. Russell, MD, PhD2, Larry Pease1*, Neil E. Kay, MD2, Karen E. Hedin1*, Aaron J. Johnson1* and Saad S. Kenderian, MD1,2,3

1Department of Immunology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN
2Division of Hematology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN
3T-Cell Engineering Program, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN
4Department of Molecular Pharmacology & Experimental Therapeutics, Mayo Clinic, Rochester
5Humanigen, Brisbane, CA

Despite its efficacy, chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy (CART) is limited by the development of cytokine release syndrome (CRS) and neurotoxicity (NT). While CRS is related to extreme elevation of cytokines and massive T cell expansion, the exact mechanisms for NT have not yet been elucidated. Preliminary studies suggest that NT might be mediated by myeloid cells that cross the blood brain barrier. This is supported by correlative analysis from CART19 pivotal trials where CD14+ cell numbers were increased in the cerebrospinal fluid of patients that developed severe NT (Locke et al, ASH 2017). Therefore, we aimed to investigate the role of GM-CSF neutralization in preventing CRS and NT after CART cell therapy via monocyte control.

First, we investigated the effect of GM-CSF blockade on CART cell effector functions. Here, we used the human GM-CSF neutralizing antibody (lenzilumab, Humanigen, Burlingame, California) that has been shown to be safe in phase II clinical trials. Lenzilumab (10 ug/kg) neutralizes GM-CSF when CART19 cells are stimulated with the CD19+ Luciferase+ acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) cell line NALM6, but does not impair CART cell function in vitro. We have found that malignancy associated macrophages reduce CART proliferation. GM-CSF neutralization with lenzilumab results in enhanced CART cell antigen specific proliferation in the presence of monocytes. To confirm this in vivo, NOD-SCID-g-/- mice were engrafted with high disease burdens of NALM6 and treated with low doses of CART19 or control T cells (to induce tumor relapse), in combination with lenzilumab or isotype control antibody. The combination of CART19 and lenzilumab resulted in significant anti-tumor activity and overall survival benefit compared to control T cells (Fig 1A), similar to mice treated with CART19 combined with isotype control antibody, indicating that GM-CSF neutralization does not impair CART cell activity in vivo. This anti-tumor activity was validated in an ALL patient derived xenograft model.

Next, we explored the impact of GM-CSF neutralization on CART cell related toxicities in a novel patient derived xenograft model. Here, NOD-SCID-g-/- mice were engrafted with leukemic blasts (1-3x106 cells) derived from patients with high risk ALL. Mice were then treated with high doses of CART19 cells (2-5x106 intravenously). Five days after CART19 treatment, mice began to develop progressive motor weakness, hunched bodies, and weight loss that correlated with massive elevation of circulating human cytokine levels. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the brain during this syndrome showed diffuse enhancement and edema, associated with central nervous system (CNS) infiltration of CART cells and murine activated myeloid cells. This is similar to what has been reported in CART19 clinical trials in patients with severe NT. The combination of CART19, lenzilumab (to neutralize human GM-CSF) and murine GM-CSF blocking antibody (to neutralize mouse GM-CSF) resulted in prevention of weight loss (Fig 1B), decrease in critical myeloid cytokines (Fig 1C-D), reduction of cerebral edema (Fig 1E), enhanced leukemic disease control in the brain (Fig 1F), and reduction in brain macrophages (Fig 1G).

Finally, we hypothesized that disrupting GM-CSF through CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing during the process of CART cell manufacturing would result in functional CART cells with reduced secretion of GM-CSF. We designed guide RNA targeting exon 3 of the GM-CSF gene and generated GM-CSFk/o CART19 cells. Our preliminary data suggest that these CARTs produce significantly less GM-CSF upon activation but continue to exhibit similar production of other cytokines and exhibit normal effector functions in vitro (Fig 1H). Using the NALM6 high tumor burden relapse xenograft model as described above, GM-CSFk/o CART19 cells resulted in slightly enhanced disease control compared to CART19 cells (Fig 1I).

Thus, modulating myeloid cell behavior through GM-CSF blockade can help control CART mediated toxicities and may reduce their immunosuppressive features to improve leukemic control. These studies illuminate a novel approach to abrogate NT and CRS through GM-CSF neutralization that also potentially enhances CART cell functions. Based on these results, we have designed a phase II clinical trial using lenzilumab as a modality to prevent CART related toxicities in patients with diffuse large B cell lymphoma.

Disclosures: Ahmed: Humanigen: Employment. Sahmoud: Humanigen: Employment. Durrant: Humanigen: Employment. Russell: Vyriad: Equity Ownership. Kay: Janssen: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Tolero Pharmaceuticals: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Acerta: Research Funding; Celgene: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Gilead: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Pharmacyclics: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Morpho-sys: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Infinity Pharm: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Agios Pharm: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Cytomx Therapeutics: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees. Kenderian: Novartis: Patents & Royalties; Tolero Pharmaceuticals: Research Funding; Humanigen: Research Funding.

Previous Abstract | Next Abstract >>
*signifies non-member of ASH