Translation of the unprecedented efficacy of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell technology into solid tumors requires a solution to the problem of on-target damage of vital organs. We have developed an inhibitory CAR platform (iCAR) that imposes self-regulation in CAR T-cells to restrict inappropriate activation against normal cells without compromising tumor efficacy. The system consists of an iCAR that is co-expressed with a conventional activating CAR (aCAR) designed to activate T-cells. The iCAR and aCAR scFvs bind distinct cell-surface antigens that are ubiquitously expressed across all solid tumor histologies and normal tissues. The iCAR is allele-specific whereas the aCAR is pan-allelic. The iCAR technology was validated in functional assays and NSG models with cancer cell lines that mimic loss-of-heterozygosity (LOH) which is common in most human cancers due to increased chromosomal instability. In this context, loss of iCAR target expression due to LOH generates irreversible target specificity. Tumor-specific overexpression of aCAR and iCAR targets, a common barrier to the clinical translation of potent agents targeting the cell-surface proteins is not required. We have shown using in vitro and in vivo models that CAR T-cell activation and target killing are fully inhibited by dual iCAR + aCAR antigen engagement. This outcome validates the concept of iCAR-mediated protection of normal cells in vital organs. In contrast, tumors that mimic iCAR target LOH through CRISPR editing were fully eradicated with aCAR engagement alone. T-cell activation, proliferation, and cytotoxic activity after exposure to target cells lacking iCAR target antigen was found to be quantitatively indistinguishable from the results obtained with single input aCAR CAR T-cells. These results suggest that iCAR technology can enable treatment of cancer patients with solid tumors using CAR T-cells that maximize potency and efficacy by mitigating on-target CRS, neurotoxicity, and inevitable organ damage. The restriction of CAR T activation to the local tumor environment by iCAR-mediated self-regulation directly addresses a fundamental technology gap that cannot be solved by CAR T dosing or aCAR modification alone.
Citation Format: Michael R. Weist, Adi Sharbi-Yunger, Jason Yi, Caitlin Schnair, David Bassan, Tanya Kim, Sarit Tabak, Yael Lopesco, Leehee Weinberger, Nir Bujanover, Neta Chaim, Kristina Vucci, Orit Foord, Frank J. Calzone, Rick Kendall, Gregor B. Adams. Rewiring CAR T-cells for absolute solid tumor specificity and safety [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 2826.