Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CARs) are engineered transmembrane proteins consisting of an antibody-derived antigen recognition domain linked to intracellular cell signaling domains. CAR engineered autologous T cells have been successful in the treatment of a variety of hematologic malignancies. However, several major caveats, including lack of universal donors, long manufacturing times, and absence of a donor in immunologically frail patients, have limited the successful translation of CAR-T cell based therapy to a larger pool of patients. A universal, easy to manufacture, "off the shelf" CAR-based product could potentially address these limitations and result in a lower cost of goods.
Towards developing an "off the shelf" CAR-based therapy for Multiple Myeloma (MM), we explored the feasibility and preclinical efficacy of expressing CD38 CARs in KHYG-1 cells, a natural killer (NK) cell line, first established by Yagita et al from a patient with aggressive NK leukemia (Leukemia, 2000). To this end, we effectively transduced KHYG-1 cells with high-affinity CD38 CARs as well as our recently reported affinity-optimized CD38 CARs, which can readily target MM cells with high CD38 expression, while ignoring non-malignant cells with intermediate, low or no CD38 expression when brought to expression on T cells (Drent et al, Molecular Therapy 2017). Moreover, we assessed performance of first and second generation CARs, with co-stimulatory domains CD28 and 4-1BB, and found the combination of CD28/CD3ζ to lead to the best results. After expanding the CAR transduced KHYG-1 cells, we analyzed their phenotype and efficacy in MM by analyzing their cytotoxic activity against CD38+ and CD38- MM and AML cell lines (UM9/THP-1 and U266/HL60, respectively), and against primary MM cells. The CD38-CAR transduced KHYG-1 cells showed no phenotypic alterations, and at effector to target ratios as low as 1:1, induced a high cytotoxicity towards CD38+ cell lines as compared to mock or non-transduced KHYG-1, demonstrating the important contribution of the CD38 CAR on the KHYG-1 NK cell surface. CD38- cell lines were unaffected by both CD38-CAR transduced KHYG-1 cells and mock or non-transduced KHYG-1 cells, indicating the specificity towards CD38 of the CAR and thus the potential safety of the CD38-CAR KHYG-1 cell. Similarly, ex vivo assays using primary MM cells revealed superior cytotoxic activity of CD38-CAR KHYG-1 cells as compared to mock or non-transduced KHYG-1 cells (median 86,5% vs 14% at 1:1 E:T ratio, n=2, Figure 1A). Confirming our previous results we identified an affinity-optimized CD38-CAR which mediated strong primary MM cell cytotoxicity with little or no "off tumor" effect. Normal immune cells (B, T, monocytes), which were either CD38 negative or only intermediate positive, were unaffected (Figure 1B-D), suggesting the potential safety of the CAR-NK cell therapy for clinical applications. As clinical administration would require irradiation of CD38-CAR KHYG-1 cells, we tested the effect of irradiation on their proliferative and cytotoxicity potential. Irradiation with 10Gy, while drastically inhibiting proliferative activity and viability (50% survival after 3 days), did not affect cytotoxicity, suggesting that repeated administrations of irradiated, CD38-CAR transduced KYHG-1 cells may exert effective in vivo anti-tumor activity, which is currently being evaluated in appropriate in vivo models, specifically the humanized bone scaffold in vivo model published by Groen et al (Blood, 2012).
In conclusion, we demonstrate that the incorporation of CAR technology into the immortal NK cell line KHYG-1 has enormous potential to become a safe and effective "off the shelf" therapy for MM.
Stikvoort:Onkimmune: Research Funding. Sarkar:Onkimmune: Research Funding. van de Donk:Amgen: Research Funding; Janssen Pharmceuticals: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding, Speakers Bureau; Novartis: Research Funding; Bristol-Myers Squibb: Research Funding; Celgene: Research Funding. Zweegman:Takeda: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Takeda: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Celgene Corp.: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Janssen: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding. O'Dwyer:Janssen: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Onkimmune: Equity Ownership, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; BMS: Research Funding; Celgene: Research Funding; Glycomimetics: Research Funding; Abbvie: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees. Mutis:Gilead: Research Funding; Celgene: Research Funding; Novartis: Research Funding; OnkImmune: Research Funding; Genmab: Research Funding; Janssen: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.