Stealth transgenes enable CAR-T cells to evade host immune responses

May, 05, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


Adoptive cell therapy, such as chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell therapy, has improved patient outcomes for hematological malignancies. Currently, four of the six FDA-approved CAR-T cell products use the FMC63-based αCD19 single-chain variable fragment, derived from a murine monoclonal antibody, as the extracellular binding domain. Clinical studies demonstrate that patients develop humoral and cellular immune responses to the non-self CAR components of autologous CAR-T cells or donor-specific antigens of allogeneic CAR-T cells, which is thought to potentially limit CAR-T cell persistence and the success of repeated dosing.


In this study, we implemented a one-shot approach to prevent rejection of engineered T cells by simultaneously reducing antigen presentation and the surface expression of both Classes of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) via expression of the viral inhibitors of transporter associated with antigen processing (TAPi) in combination with a transgene coding for shRNA targeting class II MHC transactivator (CIITA). The optimal combination was screened in vitro by flow cytometric analysis and mixed lymphocyte reaction assays and was validated in vivo in mouse models of leukemia and lymphoma. Functionality was assessed in an autologous setting using patient samples and in an allogeneic setting using an allogeneic mouse model.


The combination of the Epstein-Barr virus TAPi and an shRNA targeting CIITA was efficient and effective at reducing cell surface MHC classes I and II in αCD19 ‘stealth’ CAR-T cells while retaining in vitro and in vivo antitumor functionality. Mixed lymphocyte reaction assays and IFN ELISpot assays performed with T cells from patients previously treated with autologous αCD19 CAR-T cells confirm that CAR T cells expressing the stealth transgenes evade allogeneic and autologous anti-CAR responses, which was further validated in vivo. Importantly, we noted anti-CAR-T cell responses in patients who had received multiple CAR-T cell infusions, and this response was reduced on in vitro restimulation with autologous CARs containing the stealth transgenes.


Together, these data suggest that the proposed stealth transgenes may reduce the immunogenicity of autologous and allogeneic cellular therapeutics. Moreover, patient data indicate that repeated doses of autologous FMC63-based αCD19 CAR-T cells significantly increased the anti-CAR T cell responses in these patients.

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