Reducing on-Target Off-Tumor Effects of CD38-Chimeric Antigen Receptors By Affinity Optimization

Esther Drent, Maria Themeli, Renée Poels, Niels W.C.J. van de Donk, Henk M. Lokhorst and Tuna Mutis


Chimeric Antigen Receptors (CARs) are engineered transmembrane proteins consisting of an antibody (ab)-derived antigen recognition domain linked to intracellular T cell signaling domains. Cytotoxic T cells endowed with tumor-reactive CARs are highly promising tools for immunotherapy of cancer. There are however only a few truly tumor specific molecules that can be targeted by CARs, a drawback for the broad application of CAR T cell therapy. Indeed, when we recently aimed at targeting CD38high multiple myeloma (MM) with T cells transduced with high affinity CD38CARs, we observed that they not only lysed the CD38high MM cells but also CD38+ normal hematopoietic cells, pointing towards potential safety issues of such tumor-associated, but not entirely tumor-specific CARs. Therefore, using CD38 as a model for antigen we now tested whether it would be possible to reduce the on target, off-tumor effects of such CARs by optimizing their target cell affinity. To this end, we generated a new panel of CD38 abs through the "light chain exchange" method, in which heavy chains of two high affinity CD38 abs were combined with 176 different germ line light chains. This approach revealed around 100 new abs, which displayed 10- >1000 fold lower affinity to CD38 as compared to the parental abs. After categorizing them in three classes based on CD38 binding affinity, we used 8 abs from each class to generate 24 different CD38-CAR constructs. Testing the cytotoxic activity of T cells transduced with these CD38-CARs against CD38++ MM cell lines, primary MM cells and CD38+ normal hematopoietic cells in vitro and in vivo demonstrated that CD38-CAR T cells with ca. 1000 fold lower affinity to CD38 could still effectively lyse CD38++ MM cells while there was little or no cytotoxicity against CD38+ healthy hematopoietic cells. The results of this study reveal that it is possible to reduce the on-target off-tumor effects of CARs by optimizing their affinity. Thus, tailored affinity of the ab binding domain may open up new roads for CAR therapy.

Disclosures van de Donk: Janssen: Research Funding; Celgene: Research Funding; BMS: Research Funding; Amgen: Research Funding. Lokhorst: Janssen: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding; Genmab: Research Funding. Mutis: Celgene: Research Funding; Genmab: Research Funding; Janssen: Membership on an entity's Board of Directors or advisory committees, Research Funding.

  • * Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.