Targeted immunotherapy with CTL019, CD19-specific chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-modified T cells, can produce potent and sustained responses in children with relapsed/refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). However, a subset of patients has limited persistence, which can increase the risk of relapse. Most CAR single chain variable fragment (scFv) domains, including that of CTL019, are of murine origin; therefore, anti-mouse reactivity is one potential cause of immune-mediated rejection that may be overcome by fully human or humanized CAR designs. We developed a humanized anti-CD19 scFv domain and now report on treatment with humanized CD19-directed CAR T cells (CTL119).


A pilot/phase 1 study of CAR-modified T cells containing a humanized anti-CD19 scFv domain (CTL119) enrolled children and young adults with relapsed/refractory B-ALL with or without prior exposure to a CAR T cell product. Patients previously treated with CD19-specific CAR-modified T cells were eligible if they met 1 of 3 criteria: 1) CD19+ relapse 2) no response to prior CAR T cell therapy or 3) early B cell recovery indicating poor persistence of CAR T cells. Patient-derived T cells were transduced ex vivo with a lentiviral vector encoding a CAR composed of CD3z, 4-1BB, and humanized anti-CD19 scFv domains and activated/expanded with anti-CD3/CD28 beads. The humanized scFv domain was developed by grafting the complementary determining regions of both the heavy and light chains onto human germline acceptor frameworks. Patients received lymphodepletion with cyclophosphamide and fludarabine 1 week prior to infusion with CTL119.


Thirty children and young adults aged 29 mo-24 yr were infused with CTL119. Eighteen patients had received prior allogeneic stem cell transplant (SCT). Eleven patients who previously received murine-derived CD19-specific CAR-modified T cells (CTL019, n=7; other, n=4) were retreated for B cell recovery (n=5), CD19+ relapse (n=5), or no response to prior CAR T cells (n=1). CNS disease or other extramedullary disease was the indication for enrollment in 6 and 3 patients, respectively.

At assessment 1 month after infusion, 26/30 patients (87%) achieved a complete response (CR), defined as morphologic remission with B cell aplasia. Of 11 patients previously treated with murine CD19-specific CAR-modified T cells, 7 (64%) achieved a CR at 1 month, 4 demonstrated no response. Multiparameter flow cytometry for minimal residual disease (MRD) was negative at a detection level of 0.01% in 5/7 responding patients. Two responding patients with positive MRD progressed to CD19+ relapse at 1.6 and 3 mo.

In patients with no prior exposure to a CD19 CAR T cell product, MRD-negative CR was achieved in 19/19 patients (100%). One patient relapsed with CD19+ extramedullary disease at 2.8 mo. With a median follow-up of 4.2 mo (range, 1.0-14.1 mo) for all responding patients in both cohorts, 23/26 remain in remission with 1 proceeding to SCT in remission.

B cell aplasia, a functional marker of CD19-targeted CAR T cell persistence, continued for 3 months or more in 11/18 patients with adequate follow-up: 1/6 retreatment, 10/12 CAR-naïve. Cytokine release syndrome (CRS) was observed in 28/30 patients and mild in most patients (grade 1, n=6; grade 2, n=18). Three patients experienced grade 3 CRS requiring supplemental oxygen or low-dose vasopressor support and 1 experienced grade 4 CRS requiring high-dose vasopressor and ventilatory support. Severe CRS was successfully managed with the IL6R antagonist tocilizumab in 3 patients. Neurologic toxicity included encephalopathy (n=5) and seizure (n=4) and was fully reversible.


In the first study of humanized anti-CD19 CAR T cells, CTL119 induced remissions in children and young adults with relapsed/refractory B-ALL, including 64% of patients previously treated with murine CD19-directed CAR T cells and 100% of CAR-naïve patients. Further investigation into CAR T cell persistence and anti-CAR responses will be vital to improve durable remission rates in this highly refractory population.


Maude:Novartis: Consultancy. Barrett:Novartis: Research Funding. Teachey:Novartis: Research Funding. Shaw:Novartis: Research Funding; Vitality Institute: Research Funding. Brogdon:Novartis: Employment. Scholler:Novartis: Patents & Royalties: Royalties, Research Funding. Marcucci:Novartis: Research Funding. Levine:GE Healthcare Bio-Sciences: Consultancy; Novartis: Patents & Royalties, Research Funding. Frey:Amgen: Consultancy; Novartis: Research Funding. Porter:Novartis: Patents & Royalties, Research Funding; Genentech: Employment. Lacey:Novartis: Research Funding. Melenhorst:Novartis: Research Funding. June:Novartis: Honoraria, Patents & Royalties, Research Funding; Celldex: Consultancy, Equity Ownership; Pfizer: Honoraria; Immune Design: Consultancy, Equity Ownership; Johnson & Johnson: Honoraria; Novartis: Honoraria, Patents & Royalties, Research Funding; Tmunity Therapeutics: Equity Ownership. Grupp:Pfizer: Consultancy; Jazz Pharmaceuticals: Consultancy; Novartis: Consultancy, Research Funding.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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