Telomerase (TERT) is overexpressed in 80% to 90% of primary tumors and contributes to sustaining the transformed phenotype. The identification of several TERT epitopes in tumor cells has elevated the status of TERT as a potential universal target for selective and broad adoptive immunotherapy. TERT-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) have been detected in the peripheral blood of B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (B-CLL) patients, but display low functional avidity, which limits their clinical utility in adoptive cell transfer approaches. To overcome this key obstacle hindering effective immunotherapy, we isolated an HLA-A2-restricted T-cell receptor (TCR) with high avidity for human TERT from vaccinated HLA-A*0201 transgenic mice. Using several relevant humanized mouse models, we demonstrate that TCR-transduced T cells were able to control human B-CLL progression in vivo and limited tumor growth in several human, solid transplantable cancers. TERT-based adoptive immunotherapy selectively eliminated tumor cells, failed to trigger a self-MHC-restricted fratricide of T cells, and was associated with toxicity against mature granulocytes, but not toward human hematopoietic progenitors in humanized immune reconstituted mice. These data support the feasibility of TERT-based adoptive immunotherapy in clinical oncology, highlighting, for the first time, the possibility of utilizing a high-avidity TCR specific for human TERT. Cancer Res; 76(9); 2540-51. ©2016 AACR.
©2016 American Association for Cancer Research.