• CAR-37 T-cells expanded to >98% of CD3+ cells and led to complete responses but caused prolonged cytopenia associated with high IL-18

  • Depleting CAR-37 T cells using cetuximab to target the truncated EGFR safety switch was unsuccessful in the setting of neutropenia

We report on the first-in-human clinical trial using chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells targeting CD37, an antigen highly expressed in B- and T-cell malignancies (clinicaltrials.gov NCT04136275). Five patients with relapsed or refractory CD37+ lymphoid malignancies were enrolled and infused with autologous CAR-37 T-cells. CAR-37 T-cells expanded in the peripheral blood of all patients and, at peak, comprised >94% of the total lymphocytes in 4/5 patients. Tumor responses were observed in 4/5 patients, with 3 complete responses, 1 mixed response, and 1 patient whose disease progressed rapidly and with relative loss of CD37 expression. Three patients experienced prolonged and severe pancytopenia, and in two of these patients, efforts to ablate CAR-37 T-cells (which were engineered to co-express truncated EGFR) with cetuximab, were unsuccessful. Hematopoiesis was restored in these two patients following allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. No other severe, non-hematopoietic toxicities occurred. We investigated the mechanisms of profound pancytopenia and did not observe activation of CAR-37 T-cells in response to hematopoietic stem cells in vitro or hematotoxicity in humanized models. Patients with pancytopenia had sustained high levels of IL-18, with low levels of IL-18 binding protein in their peripheral blood. IL-18 levels were significantly higher in CAR-37-treated patients relative to both cytopenic and non-cytopenic cohorts of CAR-19-treated cohorts of patients. In conclusion, CAR-37 T-cells exhibited anti-tumor activity, with significant CAR expansion and cytokine production. CAR-37 T-cells may be an effective therapy in hematologic malignancies as a bridge to hematopoietic stem cell transplant.

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