Purpose: A phase I study was conducted to assess the safety of adoptive immunotherapy using gene-modified autologous T cells for the treatment of metastatic ovarian cancer.
Experimental design: T cells with reactivity against the ovarian cancer-associated antigen alpha-folate receptor (FR) were generated by genetic modification of autologous T cells with a chimeric gene incorporating an anti-FR single-chain antibody linked to the signaling domain of the Fc receptor gamma chain. Patients were assigned to one of two cohorts in the study. Eight patients in cohort 1 received a dose escalation of T cells in combination with high-dose interleukin-2, and six patients in cohort 2 received dual-specific T cells (reactive with both FR and allogeneic cells) followed by immunization with allogeneic peripheral blood mononuclear cells.
Results: Five patients in cohort 1 experienced some grade 3 to 4 treatment-related toxicity that was probably due to interleukin-2 administration, which could be managed using standard measures. Patients in cohort 2 experienced relatively mild side effects with grade 1 to 2 symptoms. No reduction in tumor burden was seen in any patient. Tracking 111In-labeled adoptively transferred T cells in cohort 1 revealed a lack of specific localization of T cells to tumor except in one patient where some signal was detected in a peritoneal deposit. PCR analysis showed that gene-modified T cells were present in the circulation in large numbers for the first 2 days after transfer, but these quickly declined to be barely detectable 1 month later in most patients. An inhibitory factor developed in the serum of three of six patients tested over the period of treatment, which significantly reduced the ability of gene-modified T cells to respond against FR+ tumor cells.
Conclusions: Large numbers of gene-modified tumor-reactive T cells can be safely given to patients, but these cells do not persist in large numbers long term. Future studies need to employ strategies to extend T cell persistence. This report is the first to document the use of genetically redirected T cells for the treatment of ovarian cancer.