Small-molecule GSIs increase BCMA surface expression on myeloma cells, resulting in enhanced CAR T-cell efficacy.
B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA) is a validated target for chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy in multiple myeloma (MM). Despite promising objective response rates, most patients relapse, and low levels of BCMA on a subset of tumor cells has been suggested as a probable escape mechanism. BCMA is actively cleaved from the tumor cell surface by the ubiquitous multisubunit γ-secretase (GS) complex, which reduces ligand density on tumor cells for CAR T-cell recognition and releases a soluble BCMA (sBCMA) fragment capable of inhibiting CAR T-cell function. Sufficient sBCMA can accumulate in the bone marrow of MM patients to inhibit CAR T-cell recognition of tumor cells, and potentially limit efficacy of BCMA-directed adoptive T-cell therapy. We investigated whether blocking BCMA cleavage by small-molecule GS inhibitors (GSIs) could augment BCMA-targeted CAR T-cell therapy. We found that exposure of myeloma cell lines and patient tumor samples to GSIs markedly increased surface BCMA levels in a dose-dependent fashion, concurrently decreased sBCMA concentrations, and improved tumor recognition by CAR T cells in vitro. GSI treatment of MM tumor-bearing NOD/SCID/γc−/− mice increased BCMA expression on tumor cells, decreased sBCMA in peripheral blood, and improved antitumor efficacy of BCMA-targeted CAR T-cell therapy. Importantly, short-term GSI administration to MM patients markedly increases the percentage of BCMA+ tumor cells, and the levels of BCMA surface expression in vivo. Based on these data, a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved clinical trial has been initiated, combining GSI with concurrent BCMA CAR T-cell therapy. This trial was registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov as #NCT03502577.