The receptor tyrosine kinase AXL is a member of the TYRO3, AXL, and proto-oncogene tyrosine-protein kinase MER family and plays pleiotropic roles in cancer progression. AXL is expressed in immunosuppressive cells, which contributes to decreased efficacy of immunotherapy. Therefore, we hypothesized that AXL inhibition could serve as a strategy to overcome resistance to chimeric antigen receptor T (CAR T)–cell therapy. To test this, we determined the impact of AXL inhibition on CD19-targeted CAR T (CART19)–cell functions. Our results demonstrate that T cells and CAR T cells express high levels of AXL. Specifically, higher levels of AXL on activated Th2 CAR T cells and M2-polarized macrophages were observed. AXL inhibition with small molecules or via genetic disruption in T cells demonstrated selective inhibition of Th2 CAR T cells, reduction of Th2 cytokines, reversal of CAR T-cell inhibition, and promotion of CAR T-cell effector functions. AXL inhibition is a novel strategy to enhance CAR T-cell functions through two independent, but complementary, mechanisms: targeting Th2 cells and reversing myeloid-induced CAR T-cell inhibition through selective targeting of M2-polarized macrophages.

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