Background: CD6 is a co-stimulatory receptor, predominantly expressed on T cells, that binds to activated leukocyte cell adhesion molecule (ALCAM), a ligand expressed on antigen presentation cells and various epithelial and endothelial tissues. The CD6-ALCAM pathway plays an integral role in modulating T cell activation, proliferation, differentiation and trafficking and is central to inflammation. While effector T cell (Teff) are CD6hi and upregulate expression upon activation, regulatory T cells (Treg) remain CD6lo/-, making this an attractive target to modulate Teff activity while preserving Treg activity. Early studies by Soiffer and colleagues demonstrated using T12, an anti-CD6 monoclonal antibody (mAb) that ex-vivo depletion of CD6+ donor cells prior to transplantation decreased the incidence of both acute and chronic GVHD, highlighting the importance of CD6+ cells in GVHD pathogenesis and validating it as a therapeutic target. However, it remains to be shown whether modulating the CD6-ALCAM pathway in vivo can attenuate GVHD. We investigated the use of itolizumab, a humanized anti-CD6 mAb that has demonstrated clinical efficacy in other autoimmune diseases, as both a preventive and therapeutic treatment for GVHD, using a humanized xenograft mouse model.

Methods: Humanized xenograft mice were generated by intravenous transfer of 2x10^7 human PBMCs into 6-8 weeks old NOD/SCID IL2rγ-null (NSG). To investigate the ability of itolizumab to prevent GVHD, mice were dosed with either 60μg or 300μg of itolizumab, 150μg of abatacept (CTLA4-Ig), or vehicle, starting one day prior to PBMC transplantation. To investigate the therapeutic effect of itolizumab, mice were dosed with either 150μg of itolizumab or vehicle, starting at Day 5 post-PBMC transfer, when transplanted T cells are already activated. All treatments were administered IP every other day. Weight and disease scores were monitored throughout the study. At Days 18 and 35, peripheral blood was evaluated by flow cytometry to examine T cell prevalence, and tissues were collected for histological examination of pathology and T cell infiltration.

Results: When administered as prevention (Day -1), treatment with either 60μg or 300μg of itolizumab significantly decreased mortality compared to the vehicle control (100% vs. 10%); this decrease was similar to the positive control group treated with abatacept (Figure 1). At 60μg, itolizumab-treated mice demonstrated significant reductions in the prevalence of human T cells in peripheral blood vs. vehicle-treated mice at Day 18 (<0.2% vs. 74.5%; p < 0.001). The reduction in peripheral T cells was accompanied by reductions in tissue-infiltrating T cells in lung (85-fold) and gut (9.5-fold), as well as reductions in disease scores and weight loss. When administered therapeutically, treatment with itolizumab was associated with a survival rate of 50% compared to 10% in the control group (Figure 2). Similarly, peripheral T cell prevalence (34.3% vs. 65.1%; p < 0.001), weight loss, and disease scores were inhibited by itolizumab compared to vehicle control mice.

Conclusions: These data suggest that systemic treatment with itolizumab can modulate pathogenic Teff cell activity, establishing this antibody as a potential therapeutic for patents with GvHD. A phase I/II study using itolizumab as first line treatment in combination with steroids for patients with aGVHD is currently ongoing (NCT03763318).


Ng:Equillium: Employment, Equity Ownership. Ampudia:Equillium: Employment. Soiffer:Mana therapeutic: Consultancy; Kiadis: Other: supervisory board; Gilead, Mana therapeutic, Cugene, Jazz: Consultancy; Juno, kiadis: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Other: DSMB; Cugene: Consultancy; Jazz: Consultancy. Ritz:Equillium: Research Funding; Merck: Research Funding; Avrobio: Consultancy; TScan Therapeutics: Consultancy; Talaris Therapeutics: Consultancy; Draper Labs: Consultancy; LifeVault Bio: Consultancy; Celgene: Consultancy; Aleta Biotherapeutics: Consultancy; Kite Pharma: Research Funding. Connelly:Equillium: Employment, Equity Ownership.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.