T-helper 1 and T-helper 17 lymphocytes mediate acute graft-versus-host disease (GvHD). Interleukin 12 is critical for T-helper 1 differentiation and interleukin 23 for T-helper 17 maintenance. Interleukin 12 and 23 are heterodimeric cytokines that share the p40 subunit (IL-12/IL-23p40). In a randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled trial, we examined the biological impact and clinical outcomes following IL-12/IL-23p40 neutralization using ustekinumab. Thirty patients received peripheral blood mobilized hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) from HLA-matched sibling or unrelated donors, received sirolimus plus tacrolimus as GvHD prophylaxis, and were randomized to ustekinumab versus placebo with 1:1 allocation after stratification by donor type. The primary end point of the trial was the mean percentage (%) T-regulatory (Treg) cells on day 30 post HCT. Ustekinumab was delivered by subcutaneous injection on day -1 and day +20 after transplantation. On day 30 post transplant, no significant difference in % Treg was observed. Ustekinumab suppressed serum IL-12/IL-23p40 levels. Host-reactive donor alloresponse at days 30 and 90 after transplantation was polarized with significant reduction in IL-17 and IFN-α production and increase in IL-4. No toxicity attributed to ustekinumab was observed. Overall survival and National Institute of Health moderate/severe chronic GvHD-free, relapse-free survival were significantly improved among ustekinumab-treated patients. No significant improvements were observed in acute or chronic GvHD, relapse, or non-relapse mortality. These data provide first evidence that IL-12/IL-23p40 neutralization can polarize donor anti-host alloresponse in vivo and provide initial clinical efficacy evidence to be tested in subsequent trials. (Trial registered at clinicaltrials.gov identifier: 01713400).
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01713400.
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