ALPN-202 combines checkpoint inhibition with conditional T cell costimulation to overcome T cell suppression by M2c macrophages and improve the durability of engineered T cell anti-tumor responses Authors: Mark F. Maurer, Siddarth Chandrasekaran, Katherine E. Lewis, Sherri Mudri, Kayla Kleist, Fariha Ahmed-Qadri, Chelsea Gudgeon, Steven D. Levin, Stacey R. Dillon, Kristine M. Swiderek, and Stanford L. Peng Background: Despite significant clinical benefit of checkpoint inhibitors (CPI) in some settings, unfortunately, the majority of patients still fail to respond and/or develop resistance. This is likely due to a complex set of factors including, but not limited to, the presence of immunosuppressive myeloid cells and/or T cell exhaustion due to chronic TCR activation in the absence of sufficient costimulation. ALPN-202, a variant CD80 vIgD™-Fc fusion protein that mediates PD-L1-dependent CD28 costimulation and blocks PD-L1 and CTLA-4, was designed to overcome several of these suppressive mechanisms. The objective of these studies was to measure effects of ALPN-202 on the suppression of T cell activation by M2c macrophages and to determine in vivo effects of ALPN-202 on T cell exhaustion in an adoptively transferred human TCR transgenic tumor model. Methods: M2c macrophages differentiated from primary monocytes with M-CSF and IL-10 were cocultured for 72hr with T cells, anti-CD3 and a titration of ALPN-202, anti-PD-1, anti-PD-L1, or anti-CTLA-4 antibodies. Cytokine concentrations in the culture media were measured at 24 and 72 hrs, and T cells and macrophages characterized at 72 hrs by flow cytometry. To measure its anti-tumor activity and effect on T cell exhaustion in vivo, ALPN-202 was evaluated in a humanized model using anti-HPV E6 TCR-transduced human T cells transferred into immunodeficient NSG mice bearing HPV+ SCC152 squamous cell tumors stably expressing PD-L1. Tumor volume was measured twice weekly and on day 38 tumors were harvested, digested, and intratumoral T cells characterized for expression of exhaustion markers. Results: In the in vitro coculture assay, ALPN-202 increased T cell proliferation and production of IL-2, IFNγ, TNFα, GM-CSF, IL-6, and IL-21 significantly more potently than CPI alone. Additionally, the M2c macrophages in the presence of ALPN-202 displayed a dose-dependent elevation of MHC II, CD80, and CD86, indicative of a more pro-inflammatory, M1-like phenotype. In the SCC152 tumor model, ALPN-202 induced a more robust anti-tumor response than CPI while the intratumoral T cells expressed lower levels of exhaustion markers. Conclusions: As a dual checkpoint inhibitor and conditional CD28-costimulator, ALPN-202 induced robust and selective T cell costimulation in vitro which overcame M2c macrophage-mediated suppression more potently than CPI alone. Intriguingly, not only were T cells vigorously activated, but M2c macrophages transitioned to a more M1-like proinflammatory phenotype. In a humanized tumor model, ALPN-202 treatment resulted in potent anti-tumor activity with reduced signs of T cell exhaustion in the TME. The data suggest that by combining CD28 costimulation with CPI, ALPN-202 may provide a more robust and persistent anti-tumor T cell response compared to CPI alone.