A multifunctional role for adjuvant anti-4-1BB therapy in augmenting anti-tumor responses by chimeric antigen receptor T cells Sherly Mardiana1, Michael H. Kershaw1, Paul A. Beavis1*, Phillip K. Darcy1* 1Cancer Immunology Program, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Melbourne, Australia *Corresponding Author
Adoptive immunotherapy utilising chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells has demonstrated high success rates in hematological cancers, with up to 90% complete remission being reported in patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). However, this success is not currently transferrable to solid malignancies due in part to the immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment limiting CAR T cell responses. Given that activation of the 4-1BB (CD137) pathway using an agonistic α-4-1BB antibody is known to provide strong co-stimulatory signals for augmenting and diversifying T cell responses, we hypothesized that the combination of α-4-1BB and CAR T cell therapy would result in improved anti-tumor responses.
Using a human-Her2 self-antigen mouse model, we found that α-4-1BB significantly enhanced CAR T cell efficacy directed against the Her2 antigen in two different established solid tumor settings. Investigation into the mechanism revealed increased expression of IFNγ and the proliferation marker Ki67 by tumor-infiltrating CAR T cells when combined with α-4-1BB. The importance of IFNγ was demonstrated in vivo where synergistic effects of the combination therapy were abrogated when IFNγ was depleted. Strikingly, we also found that α-4-1BB significantly reduced host immunosuppressive cells at the tumor site including regulatory T cells (Tregs) and myeloid derived suppressor cells (MDSCs), correlating with an increased therapeutic response. Investigation in immunocompromised RAG -/- mice showed reduced synergistic effects following the combination therapy, suggesting some contribution by host T cells. Furthermore, we found increased frequency of endogenous T cells and dendritic cells in the tumor-draining lymph nodes, supporting potential engagement of host immune cells.
We therefore conclude α-4-1BB has a multifunctional role for enhancing CAR T cell responses including engagement of endogenous immune cells, and this combination approach has high translational potential given that CAR T cell therapy has recently been FDA approved for pediatric ALL, and that α-4-1BB is currently being tested in clinical trials against various types of cancer.