The IL2Rβ/γc binding human cytokines IL2 and IL15 aid in the activation, proliferation, and survival of T and NK cells, and their therapeutic potential has been well established in animal models and human trials. However, therapeutic approaches utilizing these cytokines have suffered from low tolerability, fast clearance, and limited therapeutic window due to extensive activity on peripheral lymphocytes. Conversely, higher drug concentration and prolonged exposure are desirable to allow lymphocyte activation and proliferation at the tumor site, but this can be difficult to achieve due to dose-limiting toxicities associated with this axis. IL15 functions as a stabilized heterodimeric complex with membrane-bound IL15Rα on the surface of monocytes and DCs, which is presented in trans to lymphocytes expressing IL2Rβ/γc. We hypothesized that we could selectively target tumor-reactive TILs by combining a reduced potency IL15/IL15Rα heterocomplex with an immune checkpoint(CP)-targeting arm to bias binding and activation to CP-positive TILs, potentially improving therapeutic index. Lymphocyte activation gene 3 (LAG3) was chosen as the CP targeting-arm due to its frequent co-expression with PD1, bias to CD8+ T cells, ability to easily combine with anti-PD1 agents, and recent promising results with anti-LAG3 agents in the clinic.

First, potency-reduced IL15/IL15Rα were created by engineering amino acid substitutions in IL15 - at the IL2Rβ/γc interface - that reduced in vitro potency by at least 1000-fold. We then designed LAG3 x IL15 fusion proteins containing single-chain IL15/IL15Rα and LAG3-targeting arms attached to a heterodimeric-Fc region, relying on targeting avidity to recover potency on LAG3+ cells. In vitro proliferation of lymphocytes in human PBMCs, stimulated with sub-optimal concentrations of anti-CD3 to induce LAG3 expression, was monitored by CFSE dilution or by counting Ki67+ cells after incubation with LAG3 x IL15 for 4 days. In vivo activity was evaluated using humanized mouse models by measuring the extent of human leukocyte expansion. Lead LAG3 x IL15 were evaluated for pharmacodynamic activity, pharmacokinetics, and tolerability in non-human primates.

LAG3 x IL15 showed >500-fold selectivity compared to a non-targeted IL15 in an in vitro proliferation assay of lymphocytes stimulated for induced LAG3 expression. In vitro potency was greatest on effector memory CD8 T cells. LAG3 x IL15 were 3-fold more potent on CD8 T cells compared to CD4 T cells and had very weak activity on NK cells, consistent with minimal LAG3 expression on this population. In mouse models, treatment with LAG3 x IL15 promoted significantly increased numbers of T cells. Moreover, LAG3 x IL15 combined productively with anti-PD1 to promote additional T cell expansion. These results demonstrate that LAG3 x IL15 show a promising profile of selective IL15 delivery to TIL with minimal peripheral activity.

Citation Format: Matthew J. Bernett, Suzanne Schubbert, Michael Hackett, Lukasz J. Ochyl, Lizett E. Scott, Christine Bonzon, Rumana Rashid, Kendra N. Avery, Irene W. Leung, Nicole Rodriguez, Connie Ardila, Umesh S. Muchhal, Norman J. Barlow, Rena Bahjat, John R. Desjarlais. LAG3-targeted IL15/IL15Rα-Fc (LAG3 x IL15) fusion proteins for preferential TIL expansion [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2022; 2022 Apr 8-13. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2022;82(12_Suppl):Abstract nr 2080.