Gene therapy clinical trials require rigorous non-clinical studies in the most relevant models to assess the benefit-to-risk ratio. To support the clinical development of gene therapy for β-thalassemia, we performed in vitro and in vivo studies for prediction of safety. First we developed newly GLOBE-derived vectors that were tested for their transcriptional activity and potential interference with the expression of surrounding genes. Because these vectors did not show significant advantages, GLOBE lentiviral vector (LV) was elected for further safety characterization. To support the use of hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) transduced by GLOBE LV for the treatment of β-thalassemia, we conducted toxicology, tumorigenicity, and biodistribution studies in compliance with the OECD Principles of Good Laboratory Practice. We demonstrated a lack of toxicity and tumorigenic potential associated with GLOBE LV-transduced cells. Vector integration site (IS) studies demonstrated that both murine and human transduced HSCs retain self-renewal capacity and generate new blood cell progeny in the absence of clonal dominance. Moreover, IS analysis showed an absence of enrichment in cancer-related genes, and the genes targeted by GLOBE LV in human HSCs are well known sites of integration, as seen in other lentiviral gene therapy trials, and have not been associated with clonal expansion. Taken together, these integrated studies provide safety data supporting the clinical application of GLOBE-mediated gene therapy for β-thalassemia.
Keywords: biodistribution; gene therapy; genotoxicity; hematopoiesis; hematopoietic stem cell; integration site; lentiviral vector; preclinical model; safety; thalassemia.