ROR1 is a transmembrane receptor with tightly controlled expression during development. It is present on multiple tumor types but not on normal adult tissues. Hematological malignancies are often ROR1-positive, including chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), and diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL). Given its unique pattern of expression, ROR1 represents a tumor-specific therapeutic target. The anti-ROR1 antibody, UC-961, is ahumanized IgG1 monoclonal antibody (mAb) that binds with high affinity to a specific extracellular epitope of human ROR1 receptor and can block Wnt5a-induced ROR1 signaling. Nonclinical studies document that UC-961 does not react with normal adult human tissues and selectively binds to tumor cells. Because of the antibody high specificity, rapid internalization, and trafficking to lysosomes, UC-961 appears ideally suited to serve as the targeting moiety for an anti-ROR1 ADC. Accordingly, we have developed VLS-101, a UC-961-linker-monomethyl auristatin E (MMAE) ADC that preserves the high-affinity binding and specificity of UC-961 and allows for ROR1-targeted intracellular release of MMAE.

RS is an aggressive lymphoma, typically of DLBCL type, arising as transformation of CLL. Despite, progressive improvements in the therapy of CLL, very few effective treatment options exist for patients with RS. Using our recently established RS patient-derived xenografts (RS-PDXs), we explored the expression and signaling properties of ROR1 in RS and investigated the ex-vivo and in vivo effects of VLS-101.

When assessed by flow cytometry (FACS), immunohistochemistry (IHC), and reverse-transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), 3 of 4 RS-PDXs showed ROR1 positivity (2 highly positive: 99% and 80% of cells; 1 medium/low positive: 25% of cells by FACS). The extent of ROR1 expression correlated among the 3 assays methods and was consistent with ROR1 expression data reported for non-RS DLBCL samples. When engaged by its ligand Wnt-5a, ROR1 activated downstream targets, Rac1 and RhoA, and induced phosphorylation of the p65 subunit of NF-kB and Jnk in RS cells. When cells purified from RS-PDX tumor masses were exposed to VLS-101 ex-vivo, the drug induced time- and dose-dependent apoptosis, as shown by increases in annexin V/propidium iodide and by Caspase-3 and PARP cleavage.

VLS-101 efficacy was then assessed in vivo in both subcutaneous and systemic RS-PDX models. When palpable masses had formed in subcutaneous models, mice were randomly assigned to vehicle or VLS-101, bi-weekly treated for 3 consecutive weeks, and then compared for tumor growth and survival. In the 3 ROR1-expressing RS-PDX models, VLS-101 caused highly significant disease regressions. Complete regressions were observed even in RS-PDXs without universal ROR1 expression, suggesting a MMAE bystander effect. After treatment discontinuation, VLS-101-treated animals showed no tumor regrowth for several months and had significantly extended survival. Data were confirmed in systemic ROR1-expressing RS models in which tumor cells were intravenously injected and allowed to engraft for ~14 days before starting treatment. VLS-101 was administered with the same schedule adopted for the subcutaneous model. VLS-101 eliminated RS cells in bone marrow, peripheral blood, and spleen, increasing survival in VLS-101-treated animals relative to controls (approximately 20-50 days, depending on the RS-PDX model). Of note, no in vivo VLS-101 efficacy was observed in the ROR1-negative RS-PDX, confirming the specificity of VLS-101 targeting. VLS-101 showed no adverse effects on animal well-being or body weight.

Collectively, these results indicate that ROR1 is expressed on RS cells where it can transduce pro-survival signals and can be diagnostically evaluated for selective targeting. Nonclinical data document that the MMAE-containing ADC, VLS-101, can cause RS-PDX apoptosis in vitro and can safely and selectively induce complete tumor regressions in in vivo models of RS derived from patient tumors with heavy prior clinical treatment and variable levels of ROR1 expression. Building on these types of results, a Phase 1 clinical trial of VLS-101 (NCT03833180) is ongoing in patients with lymphoid cancers.


Vaisitti:VelosBio Inc.: Research Funding; Verastem Inc: Research Funding. Jessen:VelosBio Inc.: Employment. Vo:VelosBio Inc: Employment. Ko:VelosBio Inc: Employment. Allan:Sunesis Pharmaceuticals: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Pharmacyclics LLC, an AbbVie company: Consultancy; Acerta Pharma: Consultancy; Genentech: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; AbbVie, Inc: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Verastem Oncology, Inc.: Consultancy, Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees; Janssen: Consultancy, Honoraria; Bayer: Consultancy. Furman:Acerta Pharma: Consultancy; Pharmacyclics: Consultancy; Beigene: Consultancy; AstraZeneca: Consultancy; Genentech: Consultancy; Incyte: Consultancy; Oncotracker: Consultancy; Verastem: Consultancy; Abbvie: Consultancy; Sunesis: Consultancy; TG Therapeutics: Consultancy; Janssen: Consultancy. Miller:VelosBio Inc.: Employment. Lanutti:VelosBio Inc.: Employment. Deaglio:iTeos Therapeutics: Research Funding; Verastem Inc: Research Funding; VelosBio Inc.: Research Funding.

OffLabel Disclosure:

The drug used in this project is an anti-ROR1-toxin-conjugated antibody

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.