Purpose: Vα24-invariant natural killer T cells (NKT) are attractive carriers for chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) due to their inherent antitumor properties and preferential localization to tumor sites. However, limited persistence of CAR-NKTs in tumor-bearing mice is associated with tumor recurrence. Here, we evaluated whether coexpression of the NKT homeostatic cytokine IL15 with a CAR enhances the in vivo persistence and therapeutic efficacy of CAR-NKTs.
Experimental design: Human primary NKTs were ex vivo expanded and transduced with CAR constructs containing an optimized GD2-specific single-chain variable fragment and either the CD28 or 4-1BB costimulatory endodomain, each with or without IL15 (GD2.CAR or GD2.CAR.15). Constructs that mediated robust CAR-NKT cell expansion were selected for further functional evaluation in vitro and in xenogeneic mouse models of neuroblastoma.
Results: Coexpression of IL15 with either costimulatory domain increased CAR-NKT absolute numbers. However, constructs containing 4-1BB induced excessive activation-induced cell death and reduced numeric expansion of NKTs compared with respective CD28-based constructs. Further evaluation of CD28-based GD2.CAR and GD2.CAR.15 showed that coexpression of IL15 led to reduced expression levels of exhaustion markers in NKTs and increased multiround in vitro tumor cell killing. Following transfer into mice bearing neuroblastoma xenografts, GD2.CAR.15 NKTs demonstrated enhanced in vivo persistence, increased localization to tumor sites, and improved tumor control compared with GD2.CAR NKTs. Importantly, GD2.CAR.15 NKTs did not produce significant toxicity as determined by histopathologic analysis.
Conclusions: Our results informed selection of the CD28-based GD2.CAR.15 construct for clinical testing and led to initiation of a first-in-human CAR-NKT cell clinical trial (NCT03294954).
©2019 American Association for Cancer Research.