Background: Adoptive T cell therapy with gene-engineered T cells is an emerging cancer treatment strategy that has been applied successfully to the treatment of hematological cancers. We conducted a clinical trial to test proof of principle for this type of treatment in an epithelial cancer. Patients with human papillomavirus (HPV) 16-associated cancers were treated with gene-engineered T cells targeting HPV16 E7.

Methods: The clinical trial was a phase I study with a 3 + 3 design and three dose levels (DL) of gene-engineered T cells (DL1: 1 x 109, DL2: 1 x 1010, DL3: 1 x 1011). Patients had metastatic HPV-16+ cancers from any primary tumor site. Treatment consisted of a one-time infusion of autologous T cells that were gene-engineered to express an HLA-A*02:01-restricted T-cell receptor (TCR) that targets HPV-16 E7 (E7 T cells). A lymphocyte-depleting conditioning regimen was administered before treatment. E7 T cell infusion was followed by high-dose systemic aldesleukin.

Results: Twelve patients were treated (DL1, n=3; DL2, n=3; DL3, n=6). The age range was 31 to 59 years. The site of the primary cancer was vulva (n=1), head and neck (n=4), uterine cervix (n=5), and anus (n=2). Each patient had multiple metastases and had previously received 3 to 7 anti-cancer agents. The conditioning regimen consisted of cyclophosphamide 30 mg/Kg (n=6) or 60 mg/Kg (n=6) iv daily for 2 days overlapping with fludarabine 25 mg/m2 iv daily for 5 days. The E7 TCR was expressed by 90-99% of the infused T cells for each patient. E7 T cell cross-reactivity against healthy tissues was not identified. Cytokine-release syndrome was not observed. A single patient, at DL3, experience dose-limiting toxicity. Four patients experienced confirmed responses, and two patients experienced unconfirmed responses (i.e. met criteria for response at only one assessment) (Figure 1). Confirmed responses occurred in patients with cervical cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, vulvar cancer, and anal cancer. The duration of responses was 3 months (ongoing), 4 months, 8 months, and 9 months, respectively. These patients had previously received 7, 4, 7 and 3 prior anti-cancer agents, respectively. Three patients with confirmed responses had previously received PD-1 or PD-L1 checkpoint blockade. Four patients whose cancer progressed after E7 T cells received PD-1 or PD-L1 checkpoint blockade; none responded.

Conclusions: Tumor regression can occur following treatment of an epithelial cancer with gene-engineered T cells. These findings support continued study of E7 T cells and possibly other types of gene-engineered T cells in epithelial cancers.


Adhikary:Kite Pharma: Employment. Schweitzer:Kite Pharma: Employment. Astrow:Kite Pharma: Employment. Hinrichs:Kite Pharma: Research Funding; NIH: Patents & Royalties: NIH patents related to cell therapy.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.

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