B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) in adults has a dismal prognosis. Intensified, combinatorial chemotherapy yields remarkable results in pediatric ALL but less so in adults. As allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) is curative in only a minority of patients, there remains a dire need for effective therapies in this patient population. Building on our results obtained with genetically targeted T cells in xenogeneic models of ALL and our experience in patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (Brentjens, Rivière, Blood, 2011), we have recently initiated a clinical trial (NCT01044069) treating adults with relapsed or refractory B-ALL with autologous T cells expressing the 19–28z chimeric antigen receptor (CAR), a dual CD3zeta/CD28 signaling receptor specific for the B cell antigen CD19. Human peripheral blood T cells retrovirally transduced to express the 19–28z receptor specifically lyse normal and malignant B cells in vitro and eradicate established tumors in vivo in pre-clinical animal models. We report the results from the initial cohort of patients treated on this protocol. The first two patients had relapsed disease that achieved morphologic remission following re-induction chemotherapy. Following adoptive therapy with CAR-modified T cells, one patient achieved a B cell aplasia and molecular remission documented by deep sequencing, which demonstrated the disappearance of IgH rearrangements associated with the malignant clone. The other patient had achieved a molecular remission after re-induction chemotherapy but further developed a complete B cell aplasia following modified T cell infusion. While in molecular remission, both patients successfully underwent allogeneic HSCT and were therefore removed from the study. In contrast to these two patients, the third patient failed to achieve a morphologic remission after re-induction chemotherapy and had >60% blasts in the bone marrow (BM) at the time of T cell infusion. Within 12 hours of completing T cell infusion, the patient developed high-grade fevers, hypotension, and rigors. Serum analyses demonstrated a sharp rise in cytokines (IFNg, TNFa, IL6, IL2, and IL8), reflecting rapid and robust onset of T cell activation. High-dose corticosteroids initiated 5 days after T cell infusion controlled these symptoms. Post-T cell BM aspirate on day 8 demonstrated undetectable blasts. Flow cytometry could not detect blasts or B lineage cells, but readily identified 19–28z CAR+ T cells. Significantly, the patient's B-ALL tumor cells harbored a unique 9p21 cytogenetic deletion that was detected by FISH in 28% of nuclei immediately prior to T cell infusion and was reduced to 5% 8 days after T cell infusion. The next BM aspirate, performed on day 24 after T cell infusion, demonstrated a persistent morphologic remission, a recovering BM, and complete absence of any detectable 9p21 deletions. Furthermore, PCR amplification for IgH rearrangements in the BM 24 days after T cell infusion confirmed a molecular remission and a B cell aplasia. Collectively, the clinical outcomes from this initial cohort of 3 patients demonstrate for the first time the in vivo efficacy of CD19-targeted T cells to induce clinical and molecular remissions as well as B cell aplasia in adults with relapsed or refractory B-ALL. These early results strongly support further investigation of 19–28z targeted T cells to treat leukemias and suggest this is a potential salvage therapy for patients with relapsed/refractory B-ALL who are failing chemotherapy or are ineligible for allogeneic HSCT.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.
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