conference reporter

62nd ASH Annual Meeting and Exposition

Cellular and Immune-Based Therapies for Relapsed Aggressive B-Cell Lymphoma

by Frederick L. Locke, MD

Overview

Several abstracts presented at the 62nd ASH Annual Meeting and Exposition focused on cellular immunotherapy for relapsed aggressive B-cell lymphoma. These included updates from the ZUMA-1 and JULIET trials, which were the pivotal studies for the chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies axicabtagene ciloleucel (axi-cel) and tisagenlecleucel (tisa-cel), respectively.

Our featured expert, Frederick L. Locke, MD, was interviewed by Conference Reporter Editor-in-Chief Tom Iarocci, MD, and Dr Locke’s clinical perspectives on these data are presented here. 

Frederick L. Locke, MD

Co-Leader, Moffitt Immuno-Oncology Program
Vice-Chair and Associate Member
Department of Blood and Marrow Transplant and Cellular Immunotherapy
Moffitt Cancer Center
Tampa, FL

“Cellular immunotherapy for large B-cell lymphoma is a paradigm-changing treatment that offers long-term remissions for patients who previously were without other options.”

Frederick L. Locke, MD

Advancements in cellular and immune-based therapies have changed the treatment landscape for relapsed aggressive B-cell lymphoma. The ZUMA-1 trial, in which patients with refractory large B-cell lymphoma received a single infusion of axi-cel, had previously reported a durable ongoing response rate of 39% at the 2-year analysis (median follow-up, 27.1 months; N = 101). Here at ASH 2020, we reported the results of a 4-year analysis of treated patients: at a minimum of 4 years of follow-up (median, 51.1 months), a median overall survival (OS) of 25.8 months was reached, and the 4-year OS rate was 44%, with no axi-cel–related secondary malignancies (abstract 1187). Importantly, on an intent-to-treat basis, the median OS was 17.4 months and the 4-year OS rate was 41%.

The correlative piece that we also reported is that patients in ongoing long-term remission are experiencing normal polyclonal B-cell recovery, implying that the CAR T cells are no longer functional, and the patients remain in remission. We know that upfront chemoimmunotherapy can be curative for many patients with large B-cell lymphoma, such as those with diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), and I believe that these findings suggest that CAR T-cell therapy, in the relapsed setting, may also have curative potential.

Aberrations in Myc and either BCL2 or BCL6, by genetic alterations or protein expression, are among those baseline large B-cell lymphoma features that predict inferior outcomes with standard frontline chemoimmunotherapy. Myc expression is a key part of our criteria for identifying double-hit or double-expressor lymphoma. In abstract 1194, Jaeger and colleagues investigated Myc status and tumor microenvironment characteristics as baseline variables in the JULIET trial. Patients with relapsed/refractory DLBCL in the JULIET trial were treated with tisa-cel, with durable responses and a manageable safety profile, as previously reported. In the present abstract (1194), Myc overexpression and/or an unfavorable immunosuppressive tumor microenvironment were associated with the decreased efficacy of tisa-cel in patients with DLBCL. Myc expression was assessed by immunohistochemistry, using baseline archival tumor biopsies (pre–CAR T-cell therapy). The authors also found that those with a low frequency of tumor-infiltrating CD3+ T cells had a shorter median progression-free survival and OS. High lactate dehydrogenase levels and the presence of myeloid cells within the tumor microenvironment were also linked to worse durable response rates. The potential association of Myc overexpression in tumor cells, with worse outcomes following CAR T-cell therapy, is a hypothesis-generating finding, as previous analyses of CAR T-cell therapies have suggested similar responses in double-hit and non–double-hit lymphoma.

Many clinical trials have investigated the combination of immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) with CAR T-cell therapy in the treatment of lymphoma, and the addition of the ICIs do not appear to make a substantial difference in response. However, patients with aggressive B-cell lymphomas do, to some extent, respond to ICIs, and there may be interest in the safety of these agents when used in a more limited capacity in various settings. In abstract 3058, Chiappella and colleagues reported on a series of 16 patients with primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma who received axi-cel, and many of them had prior ICI exposure. The outcomes in both ICI-exposed and non–ICI-exposed groups appeared to be similar, and ICI exposure did not appear to negatively affect the response rate or adverse events, although the number of patients in this analysis was quite small. While other agents that might be used in concert with cellular immunotherapies continue to be explored, my sense is that we need to continue to work to understand why CAR T-cell therapies do not work for every patient, and that is what will enable us to improve outcomes.

In summary, cellular immunotherapy for large B-cell lymphoma is a paradigm-changing treatment that offers long-term remissions for patients who previously were without other options. With the US Food and Drug Administration approvals of axi-cel and tisa-cel, we now have treatment options with durable responses for eligible patients who have access to treatment. In the future, we hope to achieve these types of results for more and more patients with aggressive B-cell lymphoma.

References

Abramson JS, Palomba ML, Gordon LI, et al. Lisocabtagene maraleucel for patients with relapsed or refractory large B-cell lymphomas (TRANSCEND NHL 001): a multicentre seamless design study. Lancet. 2020;396(10254):839-852. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31366-0

Chiappella A, Dodero A, Guidetti A, et al. Checkpoint inhibition before axicabtagene ciloleucel cell therapy in primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma (PMBCL) treated in real life setting [abstract 3058]. Abstract presented at: 62nd American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting and Exposition; December 5-8, 2020.

Chong EA, Chong ER, Landsburg DJ, et al. Anti-CD19 CAR-T for treatment of double expressor and double hit large B-cell lymphomas: a single institution real-world analysis [abstract 1213] Abstract presented at: 62nd American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting and Exposition; December 5-8, 2020. 

Jacobson C, Locke FL, Ghobadi A, et al. Long-term survival and gradual recovery of B cells in patients with refractory large B cell lymphoma treated with axicabtagene ciloleucel (axi-cel) [abstract 1187]. Abstract presented at: 62nd American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting and Exposition; December 5-8, 2020.

Jaeger U, Bishop MR, Salles G, et al. Myc expression and tumor-infiltrating T cells are associated with response in patients (pts) with relapsed/refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (r/r DLBCL) treated with tisagenlecleucel in the JULIET trial [abstract 1194]. Abstract presented at: 62nd American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting and Exposition; December 5-8, 2020.

Locke FL, Ghobadi A, Jacobson CA, et al. Long-term safety and activity of axicabtagene ciloleucel in refractory large B-cell lymphoma (ZUMA-1): a single-arm, multicentre, phase 1-2 trial. Lancet Oncol. 2019;20(1):31-42. doi:10.1016/S1470-2045(18)30864-7

Riedell PA, Smith SM. Double hit and double expressors in lymphoma: definition and treatment. Cancer. 2018;124(24):4622-4632. doi:10.1002/cncr.31646

Schuster SJ, Bishop MR, Tam CS, et al; JULIET Investigators. Tisagenlecleucel in adult relapsed or refractory diffuse large B-cell lymphoma. N Engl J Med. 2019;380(1):45-56. doi:10.1056/NEJMoa1804980


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