Detection of minimal residual disease (MRD) is an important predictor of patient outcome following treatment of B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL). We assessed concordance between two MRD assays, with different assay sensitivities, to determine which MRD detection method could support early relapse detection. Immunoglobulin next generation sequencing (Ig NGS) and flow cytometry (FC) were tested in samples from two clinical trials ELIANA (NCT02435849) and ENSIGN (NCT02228096) for pediatric relapsed and refractory B-ALL patients treated with tisagenlecleucel. We also assessed whether using blood with Ig NGS would be comparable to BM testing with FC. Finally we analyzed whether clonal evolution, as detected by Ig NGS, occurred during of the course of therapy for both CD19+ and CD19- relapse patients.


In this analysis, bone marrow and peripheral blood specimens at screening (pre-tisagenlecleucel infusion), post-infusion and relapse were tested. Ig NGS was performed in 300 samples from 88 patients. 237 samples from 83 patients also had FC MRD results available.

MRD was measured on fresh blood and bone marrow using a 3-tube FC assay (CD10, CD19, CD13, CD20, CD22, CD33, CD34, CD38, CD45, CD58, CD123). The FC MRD assay has a lower limit of sensitivity of 0.01% of white blood cells.

Ig NGS detection of MRD was performed using the Adaptive Biotechnology's NGS MRD assay. MRD quantitative values, along with the qualitative MRD calls at each assay sensitivity level (10-4, 10-5 and 10-6) were reported. At baseline, 85 out of 88 samples had informative clones.

Results and Conclusions

To examine the comparability of flow cytometry and Ig NGS methods in assessing MRD, baseline and post-treatment samples were tested. Baseline samples, which had a high disease burden, showed 100% MRD concordance between both assays. However, post-treatment, where the leukemic burden was dramatically reduced, Ig NGS detected a greater number of MRD positive samples compared to FC, at each sensitivity level tested (10-4, 10-5 and 10-6). At the highest sensitivity level of 10-6, Ig NGS was able to detect 18% more MRD positive post-treatment samples. Importantly, Ig NGS was able to detect MRD positivity 1-4 months ahead of clinical relapse in a small number of relapsed patients, whether relapse was CD19+ or CD19-. This may provide an important window of opportunity for pre-emptive treatment while a patients' tumor burden is still low.

In B-ALL, it has previously been described that MRD levels can be one to three logs lower in blood compared to bone marrow (VanDongen JJ et al. Blood 2015). Our results support these findings whereby MRD burden in bone marrow was higher than in blood using both FC and Ig NGS. We next set out to determine if the increased sensitivity afforded by the Ig NGS assay could provide a level of MRD detection in the blood comparable to FC in the bone marrow. In patients with matching data available, Ig NGS was able to detect more MRD positive blood samples than FC MRD positive bone marrow samples. This suggests that monitoring of MRD using Ig NGS in the blood holds the potential to be used as a surrogate for FC MRD in bone marrow.

The relationship between MRD and prognosis was examined. Patients who were MRD negative by both Ig NGS and FC at the end of first month post-infusion had better progression-free survival and overall survival compared to those with detectable MRD.

Tumor clonality will be further analyzed to understand sub-clone composition at baseline and clonal evolution following tisagenlecleucel treatment.

Taken together, these results highlight the importance of using a highly sensitive assay, such as Ig NGS, when monitoring for MRD. MRD detection by Ig NGS holds the potential to identify early response/relapse in patients, which could provide a window of opportunity for additional intervention before morphological relapse. Ongoing studies with larger patient groups will provide further information on the applicability of Ig NGS MRD detection and its association with long-term outcome in tisagenlecleucel-treated pediatric r/r B-ALL patients.


Pulsipher:Novartis: Consultancy, Honoraria, Speakers Bureau; CSL Behring: Consultancy; Amgen: Honoraria; Adaptive Biotech: Consultancy, Research Funding. Han:Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Employment, Equity Ownership. Quigley:Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Employment. Kari:Adaptimmune LLC: Other: previous employment within 2 years; Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Employment. Rives:Shire: Consultancy, Other: Symposia, advisory boards ; Amgen: Consultancy, Other: advisory board ; Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Consultancy, Other: Symposia, advisory boards ; Jazz Pharma: Consultancy, Other: Symposia, advisory boards . Laetsch:Bayer: Consultancy; Eli Lilly: Consultancy; Pfizer: Equity Ownership; Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Consultancy; Loxo Oncology: Consultancy. Myers:Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Consultancy, Honoraria, Research Funding, Speakers Bureau. Qayed:Novartis: Consultancy. Stefanski:Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Consultancy, Honoraria, Speakers Bureau. Baruchel:Shire: Research Funding; Novartis: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Amgen: Consultancy; Servier: Consultancy; Roche: Consultancy; Jazz Pharmaceuticals: Consultancy, Honoraria, Other: Travel, accommodations or expenses; Celgene: Consultancy. Bader:Cellgene: Consultancy; Riemser: Research Funding; Medac: Patents & Royalties, Research Funding; Neovii: Research Funding; Novartis: Consultancy, Speakers Bureau. Yi:Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Employment. Kalfoglou:Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Employment. Robins:Adaptive Biotechnologies: Consultancy, Employment, Equity Ownership, Patents & Royalties. Yusko:Adaptive Biotechnologies: Employment, Equity Ownership. Görgün:Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Employment. Bleickardt:Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Employment. Wong:Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Employment, Equity Ownership. Grupp:Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation: Consultancy, Research Funding; Jazz Pharmaceuticals: Consultancy; Adaptimmune: Consultancy; University of Pennsylvania: Patents & Royalties.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.