Preclinical Optimization of a CD20-specific Chimeric Antigen Receptor Vector and Culture Conditions

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Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-based adoptive T-cell therapy is a highly promising treatment for lymphoid malignancies, and CD20 is an ideal target antigen. We previously developed a lentiviral construct encoding a third generation CD20-targeted CAR but identified several features that required additional optimization before clinical translation. We describe here several improvements, including replacement of the immunogenic murine antigen-binding moiety with a fully human domain, streamlining the transgene insert to enhance lentiviral titers, modifications to the extracellular IgG spacer that abrogate nonspecific activation resulting from binding to Fc receptors, and evaluation of CD28, 4-1BB, or CD28 and 4-1BB costimulatory domains. We also found that restimulation of CAR T cells with an irradiated CD20+ cell line boosted cell growth, increased the fraction of CAR-expressing cells, and preserved in vivo function despite leading to a reduced capacity for cytokine secretion in vitro. We also found that cryopreservation of CAR T cells did not affect immunophenotype or in vivo antitumor activity compared with fresh cells. These optimization steps resulted in significant improvement in antitumor activity in mouse models, resulting in eradication of established systemic lymphoma tumors in 75% of mice with a single infusion of CAR T cells, and prolonged in vivo persistence of modified cells. These results provide the basis for clinical testing of a lentiviral construct encoding a fully human CD20-targeted CAR with CD28 and 4-1BB costimulatory domains and truncated CD19 (tCD19) transduction marker.

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