Bruton Tyrosine Kinase inhibitors (BTKis) are a preferred treatment for patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Indefinite therapy with BTKis, while effective, presents clinical challenges. Combination therapy can deepen responses, shorten treatment duration, and possibly prevent or overcome drug resistance. We previously reported on a CD19/CD3 bispecific antibody (bsAb) that recruits autologous T cell cytotoxicity against CLL cells in vitro. Compared to observations with samples from treatment-naïve patients, T cells from patients being treated with ibrutinib expanded more rapidly and exerted superior cytotoxic activity in response to the bsAb. In addition to BTK, ibrutinib also inhibits IL2 inducible T cell Kinase (ITK). In contrast, acalabrutinib, does not inhibit ITK. Whether ITK inhibition contributes to the observed immune effects is unknown. To better understand how BTKis modulate T-cell function and cytotoxic activity, we cultured peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from BTKi-naive, and ibrutinib- or acalabrutinib-treated CLL patients with CD19/CD3 bsAb in vitro. T-cell expansion, activation, differentiation, and cytotoxicity were increased in PBMCs from patients on treatment with either BTKi compared to that observed for BKTi-naïve patients. BTKi therapy transcriptionally downregulated immunosuppressive effectors expressed by CLL cells, including CTLA-4 and CD200. CTLA-4 blockade with ipilimumab in vitro increased the cytotoxic activity of the bsAb in BTKi-naïve but not BTKi-treated PBMCS. Taken together, BTKis enhance bsAb induced cytotoxicity by relieving T cells of immunosuppressive restraints imposed by CLL cells. The benefit of combining bsAb immunotherapy with BTKis needs to be confirmed in clinical trials.
Maissa Mhibik, Erika M Gaglione, David Eik, Ellen K Kendall, Amy Blackburn, Keyvan Keyvanfar, Maria Joao Baptista, Inhye E Ahn, Clare Sun, Junpeng Qi, Christoph Rader, Adrian Wiestner