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Pre-clinical development of gene modification of haematopoietic stem cells with chimeric antigen receptors for cancer immunotherapy


Patients with refractory or recurrent B-lineage hematologic malignancies have less than 50% of chance of cure despite intensive therapy and innovative approaches are needed. We hypothesize that gene modification of haematopoietic stem cells (HSC) with an anti-CD19 chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) will produce a multi-lineage, persistent immunotherapy against B-lineage malignancies that can be controlled by the HSVsr39TK suicide gene. High-titer third-generation self-inactivating lentiviral constructs were developed to deliver a second-generation CD19-specific CAR and the herpes simplex virus thymidine kinase HSVsr39TK to provide a suicide gene to allow ablation of gene-modified cells if necessary. Human HSC were transduced with such lentiviral vectors and evaluated for function of both CAR and HSVsr39TK. Satisfactory transduction efficiency was achieved; the addition of the suicide gene did not impair CAR expression or antigen-specific cytotoxicity, and determined marked cytotoxicity to ganciclovir. NSG mice transplanted with gene-modified human HSC showed CAR expression not significantly different between transduced cells with or without HSVsr39TK, and expression of anti-CD19 CAR conferred anti-tumor survival advantage. Treatment with ganciclovir led to significant ablation of gene-modified cells in mouse tissues. Haematopoietic stem cell transplantation is frequently part of the standard of care for patients with relapsed and refractory B cell malignancies; following HSC collection, a portion of the cells could be modified to express the CD19-specific CAR and give rise to a persistent, multi-cell lineage, HLA-independent immunotherapy, enhancing the graft-versus-malignancy activity.

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