Higher effector T cell numbers and their rejuvenated cytotoxic function accompanies favorable clinical responses to ibrutinib-rituximab.
Enhanced CD8+ T cell lytic synapse activity during ibrutinib-rituximab can be exploited using the bispecific antibody glofitamab.
Bruton's tyrosine kinase Inhibitors (BTKis) that target B cell receptor signaling have led to a paradigm shift in CLL treatment. BTKis have been shown to reduce abnormally high CLL-associated T cell counts and the expression of immune checkpoint receptors concomitantly with tumor reduction. However, the impact of BTKi therapy on T cell function has not been fully characterized. Here, we performed longitudinal immunophenotypic and functional analysis of pre- and on-treatment (6- and 12-months) peripheral blood samples from patients in the phase 3 E1912 trial comparing ibrutinib-rituximab to fludarabine, cyclophosphamide and rituximab (FCR). Intriguingly, we report that despite reduced overall T cell counts, higher numbers of T cells including effector CD8+ subsets at baseline and at the 6-month time-point associated with no infections and favorable progression-free survival (PFS) in the ibrutinib-rituximab arm. Assays demonstrated enhanced anti-CLL T cell killing function during ibrutinib-rituximab, including a switch from predominantly CD4+ T-cell:CLL immune synapses at baseline to increased CD8+ lytic synapses on-therapy. Conversely, in the FCR arm, higher T cell numbers correlated with adverse clinical responses and showed no functional improvement. We further demonstrate the potential of exploiting rejuvenated T cell cytotoxicity during ibrutinib-rituximab using the bispecific antibody glofitamab - supporting combination immunotherapy approaches.