Epitope and Fc-Mediated Cross-linking, but Not High Affinity, Are Critical for Antitumor Activity of CD137 Agonist Antibody with Reduced Liver Toxicity

Mol Cancer Ther. 2020 Apr;19(4):1040-1051. doi: 10.1158/1535-7163.MCT-19-0608. Epub 2020 Jan 23.


CD137 (TNFRSF9, 4-1BB) agonist antibodies (mAb) have demonstrated potent antitumor activity with memory response while causing hepatotoxicity in mouse models. In clinical trials, the degrees of liver toxicity of anti-CD137 vary from grade 4 transaminitis (urelumab) to nonexistent (utomilumab). To exploit the antitumor potential of CD137 signaling, we identified a new class of CD137 agonist mAbs with strong antitumor potency without significant transaminitis in vivo compared with CD137 agonists previously reported. These mAbs are cross-reactive to mouse and cynomolgus monkey and showed cross-linking-dependent T-cell costimulation activity in vitro Antitumor efficacy was maintained in Fc gamma receptor (FcγR) III-deficient mice but diminished in FcγRIIB-deficient mice, suggesting the critical role for FcγRIIB to provide cross-linking in vivo Interestingly, a single dose of an affinity-reduced variant was sufficient to control tumor growth, but a higher affinity variant did not improve efficacy. These observations suggest that binding epitope and FcγR interaction, but not necessarily high affinity, are important for antitumor efficacy and reduced liver toxicity of CD137 mAb. Our study suggests the possibility of CD137 agonist therapy with improved safety profile in humans.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / pharmacology*
  • Apoptosis
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Chemical and Drug Induced Liver Injury / prevention & control*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / immunology
  • Colonic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cross-Linking Reagents / chemistry*
  • Cross-Linking Reagents / metabolism
  • Epitopes / immunology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Melanoma, Experimental / drug therapy*
  • Melanoma, Experimental / immunology
  • Melanoma, Experimental / metabolism
  • Melanoma, Experimental / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Receptors, IgG / physiology*
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Superfamily, Member 9 / immunology*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Cross-Linking Reagents
  • Epitopes
  • Fcgr1 protein, mouse
  • Receptors, IgG
  • TNFRSF9 protein, human
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Superfamily, Member 9