CD38 antibodies in multiple myeloma: back to the future

Niels W.C.J. van de Donk, Paul G. Richardson and Fabio Malavasi


CD38 is highly and uniformly expressed on MM cells, and at relatively low levels on normal lymphoid and myeloid cells, and in some tissues of non-hematopoietic origin. CD38 is a transmembrane glycoprotein with ectoenzymatic activity, and also functions as receptor and adhesion molecule. Altogether, this has triggered the development of several CD38 antibodies including daratumumab (fully human), isatuximab (chimeric), and MOR202 (fully human). CD38 antibodies have pleiotropic mechanisms of action including Fc-dependent immune effector mechanisms, direct apoptotic activity, and immunomodulatory effects by the elimination of CD38-positive immunesuppressor cells. CD38-targeting antibodies are generally well tolerated and induce partial response or better in approximately 30% of heavily pretreated multiple myeloma (MM) patients as monotherapy. Based on their distinct mechanisms of action, favorable toxicity profile, and single agent activity, CD38 antibodies are attractive partners in combination regimens. Indeed, deep responses and prolonged progression-free survival can be achieved in relapsed/refractory MM patients when CD38 antibodies are combined with immunomodulatory agents or proteasome inhibitors. Infusion-related reactions, which typically occur during the first infusion, are the most frequent adverse events. Attention should also be paid to the interference of CD38 antibodies with certain laboratory assays, which may complicate response evaluation and blood compatibility testing. Several studies are currently examining the role of CD38-based therapies in newly diagnosed and high-risk smoldering MM. Furthermore, CD38 antibodies are currently also under investigation in other hematologic malignancies, including acute lymphoblastic leukemia, NK/T cell lymphoma, and acute myeloid leukemia, as well as in solid tumors.

  • Submitted June 2, 2017.
  • Accepted July 17, 2017.