Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-mediated targeting of T lineage antigens for the therapy of blood malignancies is frequently complicated by self-targeting of CAR T cells or their excessive differentiation driven by constant CAR signaling. Expression of CARs targeting CD7, a pan-T cell antigen highly expressed in T cell malignancies and some myeloid leukemias, produces robust fratricide and often requires additional mitigation strategies, such as CD7 gene editing. In this study, we show fratricide of CD7 CAR T cells can be fully prevented using ibrutinib and dasatinib, the pharmacologic inhibitors of key CAR/CD3ζ signaling kinases. Supplementation with ibrutinib and dasatinib rescued the ex vivo expansion of unedited CD7 CAR T cells and allowed regaining full CAR-mediated cytotoxicity in vitro and in vivo on withdrawal of the inhibitors. The unedited CD7 CAR T cells persisted long term and mediated sustained anti-leukemic activity in two mouse xenograft models of human T cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (T-ALL) by self-selecting for CD7-, fratricide-resistant CD7 CAR T cells that were transcriptionally similar to control CD7-edited CD7 CAR T cells. Finally, we showed feasibility of cGMP manufacturing of unedited autologous CD7 CAR T cells for patients with CD7+ malignancies and initiated a phase I clinical trial (ClinicalTrials.gov: NCT03690011) using this approach. These results indicate pharmacologic inhibition of CAR signaling enables generating functional CD7 CAR T cells without additional engineering.
Keywords: CD7; T cell lymphoma; T cell malignancies; T-ALL; adoptive cell therapy; chimeric antigen receptor; engineered T cells; fratricide.
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