AbstractAllogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is an effective therapy for high-risk leukemias. In children, graft manipulation based on the selective removal of αβ T cells and B cells has been shown to reduce the risk of acute and chronic graft-versus-host disease, thus allowing the use of haploidentical donors which expands the population that allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation can be used in. Leukemic relapse, however, remains a problem. T cells expressing chimeric antigen receptors can potently eliminate leukemia, including in the central nervous system. We hypothesized that by modifying donor αβ T cells to simultaneously express a CD19-specific chimeric antigen receptors and inactivating the T cell receptor by genome editing, we could create a therapy that enhances the anti-leukemic efficacy of the stem cell transplant without increasing the risk of graft-versus-host disease. Using genome editing with Cas9 ribonucleoprotein and adeno-associated virus serotype 6, we integrate a CD19-specific chimeric antigen receptor in-frame into the TRAC locus. Greater than 90% of cells lost TCR expression, while >75% expressed the CAR. The product was further purified to ultimately have less than 0.05% residual TCR+ cells. In vitro, the CAR T cells efficiently eliminated target cells and produced high cytokine levels when challenged with CD19+ leukemia cells. In vivo, the gene modified T cells eliminated leukemia without causing xenogeneic graft-versus-host disease in a xenograft model. Gene editing was highly specific with no evidence of off-target effects. These data support the concept that the addition of αβ T cell-derived, genome edited T cells expressing CD19-specific chimeric antigen receptors could enhance the anti-leukemic efficacy of αβ T cell-depleted haploidentical hematopoietic stem cell transplantation without increasing the risk of graft-versus-host disease.
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Ferrata Storti Foundation, Pavia, Italy
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