T cell therapies have had valuable clinical responses in patients with cancer. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells are genetically engineered to recognize tumor cells and CAR T cell therapy has had impressive results in the setting of B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia but has been less effective in treating other types of hematologic and solid tumors. The inhibitory tumor microenvironment (TME), including expression of ligands that bind inhibitory receptors on T cells, e.g. programmed death receptor 1 (PD-1), can dampen CAR T cell responses. To prevent PD-1-mediated dampening of CAR T cell function, we have co-modified CAR T cells to secrete PD-1 blocking single chain variable fragments (scFv). We first designed mouse constructs with which we could investigate the scFv-secreting CAR T cells in the context of a syngeneic immune-competent intact TME. CAR constructs were engineered directed against either human CD19 or MUC-16 (ecto) and an anti-mouse PD-1 scFv. Mouse T cells transduced with these constructs expressed the CAR on the surface and secreted detectable amounts of scFv that bound to mouse PD-1. The scFv-secreting CAR T cells were cytotoxic and produced IFN- γ when co-cultured with PD-L1 expressing tumors in vitro. We utilized a syngeneic mouse model to study scFv secreting CAR T cells in a model with an intact TME. In tumor-bearing mice treated with CAR T cells, scFv-secreting CAR T cells enhanced survival as compared to second generation CAR T cells. The survival benefit achieved with scFv-secreting CAR T cells was comparable to that achieved with systemic infusion of PD-1 blocking antibody, but with localized delivery of PD-1 blockade. Mice treated with scFv-secreting CAR T cells had detectable scFv in vivo in the TME. Lastly, long term surviving mice had detectable CAR T cells in the bone marrow by PCR, demonstrating persistence and suggesting an immunological memory. We next aimed to translate PD-1 blocking scFv CAR T cells to a clinically relevant human model utilizing a novel anti-human PD-1 blocking scFv. Human T cells modified with the CAR constructs express the CAR on the surface and secrete detectable amounts of PD-1 blocking scFv. The scFv binds to human PD-1 and scFv-secreting CAR T cells are cytotoxic to PD-L1 expressing tumors. Expression of PD-1-blocking scFv enhances CAR T cell function against PD- L1 expressing tumors in xenograft models of hematological and solid tumors by enhancing survival in tumor-bearing mice as compared to second generation CAR T cells. Furthermore, scFv-secreting CAR T cells exhibit in vivo bystander T cell enhancement of function, suggesting scFv-secreting CAR T cells can reactivate endogenous TILs in the TME. These data support the novel concept that localized delivery of scFv by CAR T cells can successfully block PD-1 binding to PD-L1 to enhance the overall anti-tumor efficacy of CAR T cell therapy.

Citation Format: Sarwish Rafiq, Oladapo Yeku, Hollie Jackson, Terence purdon, Dayenne van Leeuwen, Su Yan, Pei Wang, Jingyi Xiang, Cheng Liu, Venkatraman Seshan, Renier Brentjens. CAR T cells secreting an immune checkpoint blockade scFv have enhanced anti-tumor efficacy [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2018; 2018 Apr 14-18; Chicago, IL. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2018;78(13 Suppl):Abstract nr 2568.