Although new treatment modalities have recently been added to the standard regimens for multiple myeloma, the clinical outcome for patients with advanced disease is often limited. Monoclonal antibodies are increasingly used for tumor therapy, and may also represent interesting options for multiple myeloma patients. CD38 is one of the most promising target antigens on malignant plasma cells, which are evaluated in preclinical and early clinical studies as targets for antibody therapy. CD38 is a type II transmembrane protein with ectoenzymatic activity, which is involved in calcium mobilization. Human CD38 is predominantly expressed by bone marrow precursor cells and by terminally differentiated plasma cells. Multiple myeloma cells show moderate to high expression levels - making CD38 a potential candidate as target for immunotherapy.

A panel of 42 fully human CD38 antibodies was generated by immunizing human Ig transgenic mice. Immunofluorescence studies with CD38 transfected cells demonstrated antigen-specific, high affinity binding, and cross-blocking experiments revealed four distinct epitope groups. Seven antibodies, representing each of the four groups, were selected for further analyses. ADCC and CDC activity against CD38-positive myeloma cell lines (AMO-1 and JK6), and against freshly-isolated primary multiple myeloma cells was investigated. Human whole blood served as effector source, which was then fractionated into plasma (containing human complement), mononuclear (MNC) or granulocytic (PMN) effector cells. All antibodies mediated concentration-dependent killing of both multiple myeloma cell lines - using human mononuclear cells as effector source. Also complement-dependent killing of freshly isolated myeloma cells was observed. However, none of the antibodies recruited PMN for tumor cell lysis. Importantly, CD38 antibodies also killed freshly isolated tumor cells from a rare patient with a CD38/138- positive plasma cell leukemia, which was chemotherapy- refractory at the time of analysis. Furthermore, CD38 antibodies effectively prevented outgrowth of CD38-positive tumor cells in SCID mouse xenograft models. Antibody 005 was significantly more effective in these assays compared to the remaining panel of CD38 antibodies.

In conclusion, CD38 antibodies efficiently mediated killing of multiple myeloma cell lines as well as freshly isolated tumor cells and prevented tumor outgrowth in xenografted SCID mice. Antibody 005 was superior in mediating CDC and ADCC via MNC - particularly at low antibody concentrations.

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