Paediatrics (RCH) - Research Publications

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    The unexplored immune landscape of high-risk pediatric cancers.
    Mayoh, C ; Terry, RL ; Wong, M ; Lau, LM ; Khuong-Quang, DA ; Mateos, MK ; Tyrrell, V ; Haber, M ; Ziegler, DS ; Cowley, MJ ; Trapani, JA ; Neeson, PJ ; Ekert, PG (AMER ASSOC CANCER RESEARCH, 2021-07)
    Abstract In adult cancer, immune signatures such as the T cell-inflamed gene expression profile (GEP) have been developed to predict which patients are likely to respond to immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) beyond high tumor mutation burden (TMB) and PD-L1 expression. The GEP infers T cell infiltration and activation in the tumor microenvironment (TME) from transcriptomic data. However, it is not known whether tools such as GEP are applicable in pediatric cancer, as the TME in childhood cancers is largely unexplored and response to ICIs are rare. We have undertaken an integrated analysis of the pediatric TME using RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) and immunohistochemistry (IHC). Our goal is to identify patients with T cell-inflamed or “hot” tumors who may benefit from ICIs. Through Australia's ZERO childhood cancer precision medicine program we performed RNA-seq on 347 high-risk pediatric cancers (estimated <30% chance of survival) and performed IHC for CD4, CD8, CD45 and PD-L1 on 112 matching samples. Using both informatic assessments and IHC as independent measures of immune infiltration, we mapped the immune landscape of the TME across a broad range of high-risk pediatric cancers. As RNA-seq is increasingly used in the analysis of patient tumors, we investigated numerous molecular correlates of immune infiltration, tailored specifically to pediatric patients. RNA-seq was used to generate the GEP and map expression profiles of immune checkpoint genes, and deconvolution algorithms were used to extract the immune cell composition for every tumor. The correlation analysis between IHC, deconvolution of cell mixture composition and GEP were assessed, including PD-L1 protein and mRNA expression. We observed significant correlation between PD-L1 protein and mRNA expression and a weak correlation of CD8+ T cells with GEP. Deconvoluted TME estimates were most tightly correlated with the presence of T cell infiltrates (CD4 and CD8) with IHC. TMB and tumor purity estimates were derived from whole genome sequencing for each case. No correlation was observed between TMB and immune infiltration, however, tumor purity was negatively correlated with immune infiltration. Using IHC as an independent marker of a T cell-inflamed TME, we have identified a novel pediatric immune signature that includes markers of CD4 and CD8 T cells, T cell cytotoxicity, T and NK cell recruitment and activation, MHC Class II molecules and immune checkpoints. This is the first study to comprehensively analyze the pediatric TME in a cohort of this size and diversity, with matching IHC for orthogonal validation. Through the combination of RNA-seq and IHC, we have devised a novel immune signature specific to pediatrics and these techniques have identified a subset of patients that are immune “hot” and may potentially respond to ICIs. Conversely, we also highlight the potential of identifying immune “cold” patients who may need immunomodulatory combination strategies to maximize immune response. Citation Format: Chelsea Mayoh, Rachael L. Terry, Marie Wong, Loretta M. Lau, Dong Anh Khuong-Quang, Marion K. Mateos, Vanessa Tyrrell, Michelle Haber, David S. Ziegler, Mark J. Cowley, Joseph A. Trapani, Paul J. Neeson, Paul G. Ekert. The unexplored immune landscape of high-risk pediatric cancers [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the American Association for Cancer Research Annual Meeting 2021; 2021 Apr 10-15 and May 17-21. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Res 2021;81(13_Suppl):Abstract nr 3044.
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    Meyran, D ; Zhu, J ; Butler, J ; Macdonald, S ; Tantalo, D ; Thio, N ; Sek, K ; Ekert, P ; Kershaw, M ; Trapani, J ; Darcy, P ; Neeson, P (BMJ PUBLISHING GROUP, 2020-11)
    Background Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR-T) cells are a promising new therapy for patients with cancer. However, in contrast to their success in B cell malignancies, CAR-T cells targeting solid cancers have had limited success so far due to their poor proliferation and poor long-term persistence in vivo. To address this issue, we used naïve T cells to generate second-generation CAR-T cells recognizing the tumor antigen Lewis Y (LeY), termed ‘early’ CAR-T cells. Methods Purified naïve T cells were activated by CD3/CD28 soluble tetrameric antibody complex, retrovirally transduced (LeY scFv-CD3z-CD28 CAR) and expanded in IL-7/IL-15. The early LeY CAR-T cell function was tested in vitro for cytotoxicity (Cr-release and degranulation), proliferation, and cytokine secretion by CBA, either de novo or following chronic stimulation for 1 month. Finally, early CAR-T cell persistence and anti-tumor efficacy was assessed in the OVCAR3-NSG model, in the presence or absence of anti-PD-1. Results The early-CAR-T cells comprised stem cell memory-like (CD95+, CD62L+, CD45RA+) and central memory phenotype (CD95+, CD62L+, CD45RA-) T cells with increased expression of ICOS, Ki67, TCF7 and CD27 (Figure 1). The early-CAR-T cells retained potent antigen-specific cytotoxicity, and secreted significantly higher levels of cytokines (IFN-?, TNF-a and IL-2) and increased proliferation compared to conventional CAR-T cells. Importantly, early-CAR-T cells had a significantly higher proliferative capacity after long-term chronic stimulation compared to conventional CAR-T cells (figure 2), and CD4+ CAR-T cells were critical for effective early CD8+ CAR-T cell proliferation capacity in vitro (figure 3). Early CAR-T cells had significantly better in vivo tumor control compared to conventional CAR-T cells (Figure 4), this was associated with increased CAR-T cell persistence. Because chronically stimulated early-LeY-CAR-T cells expressed PD-1 (figure 2), and OVCAR-3 cells expressed PD-L1 when co-cultured with LeY-CAR-T cells (figure 5), we combined early LeY-CAR-T cells with anti-PD-1 therapy and observed complete tumour regression in these mice. Interestingly, early LeY-CAR-T cell plus anti-PD-1 treatment also enhanced the percentage of circulating stem-cell memory like CAR-T cells in vivo (figure 5). Abstract 126 Figure 1Early-CAR-T protocol, including Naïve-T cells purification and expansion in IL-7 and IL-15 promotes the maintenance of a TSCM and TCM phenotype. A) Scheme of the 7-day production protocol for Early-CAR-T cells. B) Phenotype by FACs of the conventional CAR-T cells and the Early-CAR-T cells. Pooled data in triplicate for 6 donors. C) Phenotype by Mass cytometry comparing the Conventional-CAR-T cells vs Early-CAR-T cells vs Early-CD8-CAR-T cells. Data for one donor representative of 3 different donors Abstract 126 Figure 2Early-CAR-T cells are comparable in vitro to conventional CAR-T cells in terms of killing but have a better proliferation capacity that persists after chronic stimulation. The long-term stimulated early- CAR-T cells maintain their memory phenotype and upregulated PD-1. A) Chromium release assay against the LeY+ cell line (OVCAR3), data for one donor representative of 3 other donors. B) Cytokine secretion evaluated by CBA after coculture with the LeY+ cell line (OVCAR3) or with the LeY- cell line (MDA-MB435). C) Division index of CAR-T cells quantified with CTV. D) Evaluation of the differentiation, proliferation and cytotoxicity of the CAR-T cells after chronic stimulation Abstract 126 Figure 3Early-CD4+- CAR-T cells are critical for the proliferation capacity of the Early-CD8+-CAR-T cells. A) Scheme of the CD4-depletion protocol to compare Early-CD8-CAR-T proliferation with or without CD4-T cells. B) Division index of CD4-depleted Early-CAR-T cells, CD8-T cells from bulk Early-CAR-T cells, and from CD4+ T cells from bulk Early-CAR-T-cells quantified with CTV Abstract 126 Figure 4Early-CAR-T cells show in vivo a better persistence and a better proliferation capacity associated with a better tumoral control. A) Design of the in vivo experiment (n=7 mice per group) B) T-cell persistence in peripheral blood was measured by FACS. C) Speakman correlation (Day 13) between Tumor size and% CAR-T- cells. D) Tumor kinetic and Kaplan-Meier analysis of survival of OVCAR-bearing NSG mice treated with Conventional CAR-T cells, or Early-CAR-T cells or Low-dose of Early-CAR-T cells Abstract 126 Figure 5Anti-PD1 treatment enhance the efficacy of the Early-CAR-T cells. A) Upregulation of PD-L1 on OVCAR3 when expanded in the supernatant from co-culture of OVCAR3 with LeY-CAR-T cells. B) Design of the in vivo experiment (n=7 mice per group). C) T-cell persistence, phenotype and anti-human IgG4 in peripheral blood were measured by FACS. D) Tumor kinetic of OVCAR-bearing NSG mice treated with Early-CAR-T cells or Early-CAR-T cells + Nivolumab Conclusions Our early CAR-T cells have better cytokine secretion and proliferation than conventional CAR-T cells. Early CAR-T cells also have superior anti-tumor efficacy in vivo, they have better persistence and maintain the circulating T cell memory pool. Importantly, low dose early-LeY-CAR-T cells combined with anti-PD1-treatment leads to complete clearance of LeY+ solid tumors in vivo. The early CAR-T cell production protocol is directly translatable for improving CAR-T cell efficacy in clinical trials for patients with solid tumors.