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Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the commonest childhood tumor and remains a leading cause of cancer death in the young. In the last decade, microarray and sequencing analysis of large ALL cohorts has revolutionized our understanding of the genetic basis of this disease. These studies have identified new ALL subtypes, each characterized by constellations of structural and sequence alterations that perturb key cellular pathways, including lymphoid development, cell-cycle regulation, and tumor suppression; cytokine receptor, kinase, and Ras signaling; and chromatin modifications. Several of these pathways, particularly kinase-activating lesions and epigenetic alterations, are logical targets for new precision medicine therapies. Genomic profiling has also identified important interactions between inherited genetic variants that influence the risk of leukemia development and the somatic genetic alterations that are required to establish the leukemic clone. Moreover, sequential sequencing studies at diagnosis, remission, and relapse have provided important insights into the relationship among genetic variants, clonal heterogeneity, and the risk of relapse. Ongoing studies are extending our understanding of coding and noncoding genetic alterations in B-progenitor and T-lineage ALL and using these insights to inform the development of faithful experimental models to test the efficacy of new treatment approaches.

Although somatically acquired genomic alterations have long been recognized as the hallmarks of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the last decade has shown that inherited genetic variations (germline) are important determinants of interpatient variability in ALL susceptibility, drug response, and toxicities of ALL therapy. In particular, unbiased genome-wide association studies have identified germline variants strongly associated with the predisposition to ALL in children, providing novel insight into the mechanisms of leukemogenesis and evidence for complex interactions between inherited and acquired genetic variations in ALL. Similar genome-wide approaches have also discovered novel germline genetic risk factors that independently influence ALL prognosis and those that strongly modify host susceptibility to adverse effects of antileukemic agents (eg, vincristine, asparaginase, glucocorticoids). There are examples of germline genomic associations that warrant routine clinical use in the treatment of childhood ALL (eg, TPMT and mercaptopurine dosing), but most have not reached this level of actionability. Future studies are needed to integrate both somatic and germline variants to predict risk of relapse and host toxicities, with the eventual goal of implementing genetics-driven precision-medicine approaches in ALL treatment.

Monitoring of minimal residual disease (MRD) has become routine clinical practice in frontline treatment of virtually all childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and in many adult ALL patients. MRD diagnostics has proven to be the strongest prognostic factor, allowing for risk group assignment into different treatment arms, ranging from significant treatment reduction to mild or strong intensification. Also in relapsed ALL patients and patients undergoing stem cell transplantation, MRD diagnostics is guiding treatment decisions. This is also why the efficacy of innovative drugs, such as antibodies and small molecules, are currently being evaluated with MRD diagnostics within clinical trials. In fact, MRD measurements might well be used as a surrogate end point, thereby significantly shortening the follow-up. The MRD techniques need to be sensitive (≤10–4), broadly applicable, accurate, reliable, fast, and affordable. Thus far, flow cytometry and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis of rearranged immunoglobulin and T-cell receptor genes (allele-specific oligonucleotide [ASO]-PCR) are claimed to meet these criteria, but classical flow cytometry does not reach a solid 10–4, whereas classical ASO-PCR is time-consuming and labor intensive. Therefore, 2 high-throughput technologies are being explored, ie, high-throughput sequencing and next-generation (multidimensional) flow cytometry, both evaluating millions of sequences or cells, respectively. Each of them has specific advantages and disadvantages.

With modern intensive combination polychemotherapy, the complete response (CR) rate in adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is 80% to 90%, and the cure rate is 40% to 50%. Hence, there is a need to develop effective salvage therapies and combine novel agents with standard effective chemotherapy. ALL leukemic cells express several surface antigens amenable to target therapies, including CD20, CD22, and CD19. Monoclonal antibodies target these leukemic surface antigens selectively and minimize off-target toxicity. When added to frontline chemotherapy, rituximab, an antibody directed against CD20, increases cure rates of adults with Burkitt leukemia from 40% to 80% and those with pre-B ALL from 35% to 50%. Inotuzumab ozogamicin, a CD22 monoclonal antibody bound to calicheamicin, has resulted in marrow CR rates of 55% and a median survival of 6 to 7 months when given to patients with refractory-relapsed ALL. Blinatumomab, a biallelic T cell engaging the CD3-CD19 monoclonal antibody, also resulted in overall response rates of 40% to 50% and a median survival of 6.5 months in a similar refractory-relapsed population. Other promising monoclonal antibodies targeting CD20 (ofatumumab and obinutuzumab) or CD19 or CD20 and bound to different cytotoxins or immunotoxins are under development. Combined modalities of chemotherapy and the novel monoclonal antibodies are under investigation.

Relapsed and refractory acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) remains difficult to treat, with minimal improvement in outcomes seen in more than 2 decades despite advances in upfront therapy and improved survival for de novo ALL. Adoptive transfer of T cells engineered to express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) has emerged as a powerful targeted immunotherapy, showing striking responses in highly refractory populations. Complete remission (CR) rates as high as 90% have been reported in children and adults with relapsed and refractory ALL treated with CAR-modified T cells targeting the B-cell–specific antigen CD19. Distinct CAR designs across several studies have produced similar promising CR rates, an encouraging finding. Even more encouraging are durable remissions observed in some patients without additional therapy. Duration of remission and CAR-modified T-cell persistence require further study and more mature follow-up, but emerging data suggest these factors may distinguish CAR designs. Supraphysiologic T-cell proliferation, a hallmark of this therapy, contributes to both efficacy and the most notable toxicity, cytokine release syndrome (CRS), posing a unique challenge for toxicity management. This review will discuss the current landscape of CD19 CAR clinical trials, CRS pathophysiology and management, and remaining challenges.

AFM13 is a bispecific, tetravalent chimeric antibody construct (TandAb) designed for the treatment of CD30-expressing malignancies. AFM13 recruits natural killer (NK) cells via binding to CD16A as immune effector cells. In this phase 1 dose-escalation study, 28 patients with heavily pretreated relapsed or refractory Hodgkin lymphoma received AFM13 at doses of 0.01 to 7 mg/kg body weight. Primary objectives were safety and tolerability. Secondary objectives included pharmacokinetics, antitumor activity, and pharmacodynamics. Adverse events were generally mild to moderate. The maximum tolerated dose was not reached. Pharmacokinetics assessment revealed a half-life of up to 19 hours. Three of 26 evaluable patients achieved partial remission (11.5%) and 13 patients achieved stable disease (50%), with an overall disease control rate of 61.5%. AFM13 was also active in brentuximab vedotin–refractory patients. In 13 patients who received doses of ≥1.5 mg/kg AFM13, the overall response rate was 23% and the disease control rate was 77%. AFM13 treatment resulted in a significant NK-cell activation and a decrease of soluble CD30 in peripheral blood. In conclusion, AFM13 represents a well-tolerated, safe, and active targeted immunotherapy of Hodgkin lymphoma. A phase 2 study is currently planned to optimize the dosing schedule in order to further improve the therapeutic efficacy. This phase 1 study was registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov as #NCT01221571.

Current treatment strategies for chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) involve a combination of conventional chemotherapeutics, monoclonal antibodies, and targeted signaling inhibitors. However, CLL remains largely incurable, with drug resistance and treatment relapse a common occurrence, leading to the search for novel treatments. Mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR)-specific inhibitors have been previously assessed but their efficacy is limited due to a positive feedback loop via mTOR complex 2 (mTORC2), resulting in activation of prosurvival signaling. In this study, we show that the dual phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K)/mTOR inhibitor PF-04691502 does not induce an mTORC2 positive feedback loop similar to other PI3K inhibitors but does induce substantial antitumor effects. PF-04691502 significantly reduced survival coincident with the induction of Noxa and Puma, independently of immunoglobulin heavy chain variable region mutational status, CD38, and ZAP-70 expression. PF-04691502 inhibited both anti–immunoglobulin M–induced signaling and overcame stroma-induced survival signals and migratory stimuli from CXCL12. Equivalent in vitro activity was seen in the Eμ-TCL1 murine model of CLL. In vivo, PF-04691502 treatment of tumor-bearing animals resulted in a transient lymphocytosis, followed by a clear reduction in tumor in the blood, bone marrow, spleen, and lymph nodes. These data indicate that PF-04691502 or other dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitors in development may prove efficacious for the treatment of CLL, increasing our armamentarium to successfully manage this disease.

In preclinical studies, pomalidomide mediated both direct antitumor effects and immune activation by binding cereblon. However, the impact of drug-induced immune activation and cereblon/ikaros in antitumor effects of pomalidomide in vivo is unknown. Here we evaluated the clinical and pharmacodynamic effects of continuous or intermittent dosing strategies of pomalidomide/dexamethasone in lenalidomide-refractory myeloma in a randomized trial. Intermittent dosing led to greater tumor reduction at the cost of more frequent adverse events. Both cohorts experienced similar event-free and overall survival. Both regimens led to a distinct pattern but similar degree of mid-cycle immune activation, manifested as increased expression of cytokines and lytic genes in T and natural killer (NK) cells. Pomalidomide induced poly-functional T-cell activation, with increased proportion of coinhibitory receptor BTLA+ T cells and Tim-3+ NK cells. Baseline levels of ikaros and aiolos protein in tumor cells did not correlate with response or survival. Pomalidomide led to rapid decline in Ikaros in T and NK cells in vivo, and therapy-induced activation of CD8+ T cells correlated with clinical response. These data demonstrate that pomalidomide leads to strong and rapid immunomodulatory effects involving both innate and adaptive immunity, even in heavily pretreated multiple myeloma, which correlates with clinical antitumor effects. This trial was registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov as #NCT01319422.

Early B-cell factor 1 (Ebf1) is a transcription factor with documented dose-dependent functions in normal and malignant B-lymphocyte development. To understand more about the roles of Ebf1 in malignant transformation, we investigated the impact of reduced functional Ebf1 dosage on mouse B-cell progenitors. Gene expression analysis suggested that Ebf1 was involved in the regulation of genes important for DNA repair and cell survival. Investigation of the DNA damage in steady state, as well as after induction of DNA damage by UV light, confirmed that pro-B cells lacking 1 functional allele of Ebf1 display signs of increased DNA damage. This correlated to reduced expression of DNA repair genes including Rad51, and chromatin immunoprecipitation data suggested that Rad51 is a direct target for Ebf1. Although reduced dosage of Ebf1 did not significantly increase tumor formation in mice, a dramatic increase in the frequency of pro-B cell leukemia was observed in mice with combined heterozygous mutations in the Ebf1 and Pax5 genes, revealing a synergistic effect of combined dose reduction of these proteins. Our data suggest that Ebf1 controls DNA repair in a dose-dependent manner providing a possible explanation to the frequent involvement of EBF1 gene loss in human leukemia.

The strategy of enzymatic degradation of amino acids to deprive malignant cells of important nutrients is an established component of induction therapy of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Here we show that acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cells from most patients with AML are deficient in a critical enzyme required for arginine synthesis, argininosuccinate synthetase-1 (ASS1). Thus, these ASS1-deficient AML cells are dependent on importing extracellular arginine. We therefore investigated the effect of plasma arginine deprivation using pegylated arginine deiminase (ADI-PEG 20) against primary AMLs in a xenograft model and in vitro. ADI-PEG 20 alone induced responses in 19 of 38 AMLs in vitro and 3 of 6 AMLs in vivo, leading to caspase activation in sensitive AMLs. ADI-PEG 20–resistant AMLs showed higher relative expression of ASS1 than sensitive AMLs. This suggests that the resistant AMLs survive by producing arginine through this metabolic pathway and ASS1 expression could be used as a biomarker for response. Sensitive AMLs showed more avid uptake of arginine from the extracellular environment consistent with their auxotrophy for arginine. The combination of ADI-PEG 20 and cytarabine chemotherapy was more effective than either treatment alone resulting in responses in 6 of 6 AMLs tested in vivo. Our data show that arginine deprivation is a reasonable strategy in AML that paves the way for clinical trials.

Platelet aggregation at sites of vascular injury is not only essential for hemostasis, but may also cause acute ischemic disease states such as myocardial infarction or stroke. The hemi-immunoreceptor tyrosine-based activation motif–containing C-type lectinlike receptor 2 (CLEC-2) mediates powerful platelet activation through a Src- and spleen tyrosine kinase (Syk)–dependent tyrosine phosphorylation cascade. Thereby, CLEC-2 not only contributes to thrombus formation and stabilization but also plays a central role in blood-lymphatic vessel development, tumor metastasis, and prevention of inflammatory bleeding, making it a potential pharmacologic target to modulate these processes. We have previously shown that injection of the anti–CLEC-2 antibody, INU1, results in virtually complete immunodepletion of platelet CLEC-2 in mice, which is, however, preceded by a severe transient thrombocytopenia thereby limiting its potential therapeutic use. The mechanisms underlying this targeted CLEC-2 downregulation have remained elusive. Here, we show that INU1-induced CLEC-2 immunodepletion occurs through Src-family kinase–dependent receptor internalization in vitro and in vivo, presumably followed by intracellular degradation. In mice with platelet-specific Syk deficiency, INU1-induced CLEC-2 internalization/degradation was fully preserved whereas the associated thrombocytopenia was largely prevented. These results show for the first time that CLEC-2 can be downregulated from the platelet surface through internalization in vitro and in vivo and that this can be mechanistically uncoupled from the associated antibody-induced thrombocytopenia.

Tissue factor pathway inhibitor (TFPI) is a critical anticoagulant protein present in endothelium and platelets. Mice lacking TFPI (Tfpi–/–) die in utero from disseminated intravascular coagulation. They are rescued by concomitant tissue factor (TF) deficiency, demonstrating that TFPI modulates TF function in vivo. Recent studies have found TFPI inhibits prothrombinase activity during the initiation of coagulation and limits platelet accumulation during thrombus formation, implicating TFPI in modulating platelet procoagulant activity. To examine whether altered platelet function would compensate for the lack of TFPI and rescue TFPI-null embryonic lethality, Tfpi+/– mice lacking the platelet thrombin receptor, protease activated receptor 4 (PAR4; Par4–/–), or its coreceptor, PAR3, were mated. PAR3 deficiency did not rescue Tfpi–/– embryos, but >40% of expected Tfpi–/–:Par4–/– offspring survived to adulthood. Adult Tfpi–/–:Par4–/– mice did not exhibit overt thrombosis. However, they had focal sterile inflammation with fibrin(ogen) deposition in the liver and elevated plasma thrombin-antithrombin complexes, indicating activation of coagulation at baseline. Tfpi–/–:Par4–/– mice have platelet and fibrin accumulation similar to Par4–/– mice following venous electrolytic injury but were more susceptible than Par4–/– mice to TF-induced pulmonary embolism. In addition, ~30% of the Tfpi–/–:Par4–/– mice were born with short tails. Tfpi–/–:Par4–/– mice are the first adult mice described that lack TFPI with unaltered TF. They demonstrate that TFPI physiologically modulates thrombin-dependent platelet activation in a manner that is required for successful embryonic development and identify a role for TFPI in dampening intravascular procoagulant stimuli that lead to thrombin generation, even in the absence of thrombin-mediated platelet activation.

Novel therapies for chronic graft-versus-host disease (cGVHD) are needed. Aberrant B-cell activation has been demonstrated in mice and humans with cGVHD. Having previously found that human cGVHD B cells are activated and primed for survival, we sought to further evaluate the role of the spleen tyrosine kinase (Syk) in cGVHD in multiple murine models and human peripheral blood cells. In a murine model of multiorgan system, nonsclerodermatous disease with bronchiolitis obliterans where cGVHD is dependent on antibody and germinal center (GC) B cells, we found that activation of Syk was necessary in donor B cells, but not T cells, for disease progression. Bone marrow–specific Syk deletion in vivo was effective in treating established cGVHD, as was a small-molecule inhibitor of Syk, fostamatinib, which normalized GC formation and decreased activated CD80/86+ dendritic cells. In multiple distinct models of sclerodermatous cGVHD, clinical and pathological disease manifestations were not eliminated when mice were therapeutically treated with fostamatinib, though both clinical and immunologic effects could be observed in one of these scleroderma models. We further demonstrated that Syk inhibition was effective at inducing apoptosis of human cGVHD B cells. Together, these data demonstrate a therapeutic potential of targeting B-cell Syk signaling in cGVHD.

Mechanisms of hematopoietic reconstitution after bone marrow (BM) transplantation remain largely unknown. We applied a computational quantification software application to hybrid 18F-fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography (PET)/computed tomography (CT) images to assess activity and distribution of the hematopoietic system throughout the whole skeleton of recently transplanted patients. Thirty-four patients underwent PET/CT 30 days after either adult stem cell transplantation (allogeneic cell transplantation [ACT]; n = 18) or cord blood transplantation (CBT; n = 16). Our software automatically recognized compact bone volume and trabecular bone volume (IBV) in CT slices. Within IBV, coregistered PET data were extracted to identify the active BM (ABM) from the inactive tissue. Patients were compared with 34 matched controls chosen among a published normalcy database. Whole body ABM increased in ACT and CBT when compared with controls (12.4 ± 3 and 12.8 ± 6.8 vs 8.1 ± 2.6 mL/kg of ideal body weight [IBW], P < .001). In long bones, ABM increased three- and sixfold in CBT and ACT, respectively, compared with controls (0.9 ± 0.9 and 1.7 ± 2.5 vs 0.3 ± 0.3 mL/kg IBW, P < .01). These data document an unexpected distribution of transplanted BM into previously abandoned BM sites.

To test the feasibility of a single T-cell manipulation to eliminate alloreactivity while sparing antiviral and antitumor T cells, we infused 12 haploidentical hematopoietic stem cell transplant patients with increasing numbers of alloreplete haploidentical T cells expressing the inducible caspase 9 suicide gene (iC9-T cells). We determined whether the iC9-T cells produced immune reconstitution and if any resultant graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) could be controlled by administration of a chemical inducer of dimerization (CID; AP1903/Rimiducid). All patients receiving >104 alloreplete iC9-T lymphocytes per kilogram achieved rapid reconstitution of immune responses toward 5 major pathogenic viruses and concomitant control of active infections. Four patients received a single AP1903 dose. CID infusion eliminated 85% to 95% of circulating CD3+CD19+ T cells within 30 minutes, with no recurrence of GVHD within 90 days. In one patient, symptoms and signs of GVHD-associated cytokine release syndrome (CRS-hyperpyrexia, high levels of proinflammatory cytokines, and rash) resolved within 2 hours of AP1903 infusion. One patient with varicella zoster virus meningitis and acute GVHD had iC9-T cells present in the cerebrospinal fluid, which were reduced by >90% after CID. Notably, virus-specific T cells recovered even after AP1903 administration and continued to protect against infection. Hence, alloreplete iC9-T cells can reconstitute immunity posttransplant and administration of CID can eliminate them from both peripheral blood and the central nervous system (CNS), leading to rapid resolution of GVHD and CRS. The approach may therefore be useful for the rapid and effective treatment of toxicities associated with infusion of engineered T lymphocytes. This trial was registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov as #NCT01494103.