Background

CAR-T targeting CD19 has been a success in treating B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL). However, relapse rate is high and the long term survival in pateints is not satisfactory, which is partly due to the limited expansion and persistence of the conventionally-manufactured CAR-T cells. In addition, long manufacturing time and high cost of CAR-T product further limit the wider applications of CAR-T therapy. To solve these issues, we have developed a new manufacturing platform, FasT CAR-T, which shorten the manufacturing time to one day as compared to the conventional CAR-T manufacturing time of 9-14 days, which is critical for patients with rapidly progressing disease. More importantly, CD19-directed FasT CAR-T has been shown to have superior expansion capability, younger and less exhausted phenotype, and higher potency in eliminating B-ALL both in vitro and in vivo. Based on the preclinical study, we initiated a multi-center clinical study to determine the safety, feasibility and efficacy of CD19-FasT CAR-T in treating patients with CD19+ relapsed/refractory B-ALL.

Methods

CD19-directed CAR-T was manufactured using the FasT CAR-T platform. Peripheral blood (PB) mononuclear cells were obtained by leukapheresis and T cells were separated. CD19-FasT CAR-T manufacturing were all successful. Conventional CAR-T (C-CAR-T) from healthy donor were also made in parallel for comparison in preclinical study. From Dec. 2018 to July 2019, 10 adult CD19+ R/R ALL patients were recruited and all patients received fludarabine and cyclophosphamide as pre-conditioning followed by a single CAR-T infusion 48-72 hours later. Doses used in this study were: 3 DL1 (5 x 104 CAR+ T/kg), 4 DL2 (1 x 105 CAR+ T/kg), and 3 DL3 (1.5 x 105 CAR+ T/kg). The endpoints of the study were clinical toxicity, feasibility, PK of CAR-T and efficacy.

Results:

In comparison to conventional CAR-T cells, CD19-FasT CAR-T cells had several key features (Table 1). 1) More robust expansion. Upon antigen stimulation, the FasT CAR-T proliferated 5-30 times stronger than that of C-CAR-T. 2) Higher percentage of CD62L+CD45RO- (Tscm) and CD62L+CD45+ (Tcm) population in FasT CAR-T. 3) Lower expression of PD-1+, LAG3+ and Tim3+ in FasT CAR-T. 4). More potent in eliminating Raji tumor in an in vivo xenograft mouse model. 5) More efficient migration to bone marrow which is likely due to the higher expression of CXCR4 on the FasT CAR-T cells.

The trial was conducted during Dec. 2018 to July 2019. The pre-treatment bone marrow (BM) blasts were < 5% in 5 cases, 5%-50% in 3 cases, and >50% in 2 cases (Table 2). All 10 patients achieved complete remission (CR) 4 weeks after FasT CAR-T infusion, and 9 were with negative minimal residual disease (MRD-). CAR-T cells proliferation and persistence in peripheral blood (PB) were monitored by qPCR and flow cytometry. CAR-T cells peaked at Day 10 (range Day 8-13) after infusion. The median persistence period of CAR-T in PB was 56 days ((range 28-212 days) after infusion, and the longest persistence is 7 months and still being monitored at the last follow-up. The median peak of CAR copy number is 90,446/mg DNA (range 4,670-247,507/mg DNA) (Figure). The major adverse event was cytokine release syndrome (CRS) which was observed in 9 patients, including 1 patient with grade IV in DL3 group, 3 grade III, 4 grade II and 1 grade I. The clinical manifestation of CRS mainly included fever and hypotension. The median time to the development of CRS was 5 days (2-10 days), and the peak body temperature was at Day 7 (Day 5- 11) and fever lasted for an average of 5 days (3-8 days). Serum IL-6 level increased and peaked on Day 7 post-infusion, which coincided with fever but slightly preceded the CAR-T expansion peak. Three patients experienced CAR-related encephalopathy syndrome (CRES) after CAR-T infusion, in which 1 was grade III CRES. All patients who developed CRS or CRES recovered after intervention.

Conclusion

FasT CAR-T have superior expansion capacity with younger and less exhausted phenotype, and more potent cytotoxicity against B-ALL. This first-in-human clinical study in China showed CD19-directed FasT CAR-T therapy is highly effective in treating R/R B-ALL with manageable toxicity. The safety, efficacy and potential long-term clinical benefit of FasT CAR-T therapy will be further evaluated in large multi-center trial. (http://www.chictr.org.cn/listbycreater.aspx:ChiCTR1900023212)

Disclosures

No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes

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Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.