Background: Adoptive T cell therapy involving the use of ex vivo generated antigen-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes provides a promising approach to immunotherapy. It has become increasingly apparent that anti-tumor efficacy using adoptively transferred T cells is linked to their duration of in vivo persistence and can only be achieved when combined with some form of pre-infusion patient conditioning regimen. An optimal conditioning regimen that provides a positive benefit without serious toxicities has yet to be defined. We have established a unique clinical model that allows for evaluation of a given conditioning regimen on adoptively transferred T cells in humans. In this first-in-human study (FHCRC #1796), we evaluate the use of fludarabine, an FDA-approved reagent with predictable lymphodepleting kinetics and duration of action, as a conditioning regimen that promotes homeostatic upregulation of cytokines and growth signals contributing to in vivo T cell persistence.
Methods/findings: We conducted a phase I study in patients with refractory metastatic melanoma. Patients received two infusions of a single tumor-reactive antigen-specific CTL clone expanded to 10(10)/m(2); the first infusion was given without fludarabine conditioning, and the second CTL infusion was given after a course of fludarabine (25 mg/m(2)/dayx5 days). This design permits intra-patient comparison of in vivo T cell persistence pre- and post-fludarabine. Nineteen CTL infusions were administered to ten patients. No serious toxicities were observed. Three of nine evaluable patients experienced minor response or stable disease for periods of 5.8-11.0 months with two additional patients demonstrating delayed disease stabilization. The median overall survival in this heavily pre-treated population was 9.7 months. Fludarabine led to a 2.9 fold improvement in the in vivo persistence of transferred CTL clones from a median of 4.5 days (range 0-38+) to 13.0 days (range 2-63+) (p<0.05). Fludarabine lymphodepletion increased plasma levels of the homeostatic cytokines IL-7 and IL-15. Surprisingly, fludarabine also increased the relative percentage of CD4+ T cells expressing the regulatory protein Foxp3.
Conclusions/significance: Lymphodepletion with fludarabine enhances transferred T cell persistence but suggest that additional improvements to optimize T cell survival and address regulatory T cells are critical in providing anti-tumor efficacy.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00317759.