Background; Adoptive immunotherapy with chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) gene transduced CD19-CAR T cells, which are engineered to express extracellular single-chain immunoglobulin variable fragments to CD19, linked to cytoplasmic T cell activation domains including CD3-ζ, showed remarkable therapeutic benefits toward CD19+ B cell malignancies including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, chronic lymphoblastic leukemia and non-Hodgkin lymphoma (B-NHL). For clinical setting, the phenotype of manufactured CAR T cells is an important factor; especially less differentiated T cells are anticipated to provide a long-lasting immune reconstitution. Furthermore, in order to avoid the risk of technical error and contamination during T cell manufacturing process, a closed system needs to be established. In this study, we addressed these issues and have established a novel CD19-CAR T cell manufacturing method from a small amount of blood in a closed system for clinical trial to treat patients with B-NHL.

Methods; Peripheral blood was obtained from B-NHL patient volunteers and healthy donor volunteers who gave their written informed consents. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were isolated from 30 ml of blood using Ficoll-Paque PREMIUM density gradient centrifugation. PBMCs were stimulated in a plastic bag pre-coated with anti-CD3 monoclonal antibody (OKT3) and recombinant fibronectin fragment (RetroNectin®; RN). Following four days of stimulation, stimulated T cells were transferred into a 215 cm2 plastic bag pre-loaded with SFG-1928z retroviral vector (Brentjens et al., Clin Cancer Res. 2007) onto RN-coated substratum with low-temperature shaking (RBV-LTS method; Dodo et al., PLoS ONE, 2014). After one hour incubation, the bag was flipped over to facilitate more efficient utilization of the retroviral vector adsorbed on both top and bottom surfaces of the bag and further incubated. On Day 5, the transduction procedure was repeated, and the cells were transferred into 640 cm2 plastic bags until Day 10-14 for expansion. Closed system liquid handling was managed in all processes of manipulating T cells for stimulation, transduction, expansion and final product formulation.

Results; We have previously reported that the fold expansion of T cells under stimulation with RN together with OKT3 enhanced cell proliferation while preserving the naïve phenotype of T cells in comparison to stimulation with OKT3 alone or OKT3 and anti-CD28 monoclonal antibody co-stimulation. Although B-NHL patients’ T cells showed much lower fold expansion compared to healthy donors’ T cells, 4/7 patients’ CAR T cells reached their target dose of 1 x 106 cells/kg from 30 ml of blood on Day 10. For the other 3 patients, 70-150 ml blood was estimated to be required to reach their target dose. The delay in proliferations was marked in B-NHL patients’ T cells compared to healthy donors’ T cells by Day 5, but B-NHL patients’ T cells represented significant catch-up growth, which was superior to healthy donor T cells during Day 7-14. Gene transfer efficiency of patients’ T cells (N = 7, 17.9 ± 4.7%) was equivalent to that of healthy donors’ T cells (N = 5, 22.2 ± 5.3%), and CAR T cells showed potent anti-tumor reactivity with cytokine productions against CD19 positive Raji cells in vitro. Comparing to CD3/CD28 beads stimulation method, RN/OKT3 stimulation method showed equivalent expansion. Furthermore, RN/OKT3 stimulated T cells preserved higher proportion of CD8+/CCR7+/CD45RA+/CD62L+ naïve phenotype T cells (43.6% in healthy donor and 30.9% in patient donor) compared to CD3/CD28 beads stimulated T cells (22.8% in healthy donor and 11.7% in patient donor).

Conclusions; With our novel closed system manufacturing method utilizing RN/OKT3 stimulation combined with RBV-LTS transduction from a small amount of blood of B-NHL patients, we are able to manufacture a sufficient number of CAR T cells maintaining higher proportion of naïve phenotype, which is expected to improve the efficacy of adoptive immunotherapy. In our cell manufacturing, patients are not required to undergo leukapheresis, which is more invasive to patients. Based on our results, we employed our novel manufacturing method for the phase I/II clinical trial to treat patients with relapsed/refractory CD19+ B-NHL (clinicaltrials.gov, identifier; NCT02134262).


Chono:Takara Bio Inc.: Employment. Tahara:Takara Bio Inc.: Employment. Nukaya:Takara Bio Inc.: Employment. Mineno:Takara Bio Inc.: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees. Tsukahara:Takara Bio Inc.: Research Funding. Ohmine:Takara Bio Inc.: Research Funding. Ozawa:Takara Bio Inc.: Research Funding. Takesako:Takara Bio Inc.: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.