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Hepatology. 2019 May;69(5):2061-2075. doi: 10.1002/hep.30477. Epub 2019 Feb 14.

Tuning T-Cell Receptor Affinity to Optimize Clinical Risk-Benefit When Targeting Alpha-Fetoprotein-Positive Liver Cancer.

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Adaptimmune, Abingdon, United Kingdom.


Patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) have a poor prognosis and limited therapeutic options. Alpha-fetoprotein (AFP) is often expressed at high levels in HCC and is an established clinical biomarker of the disease. Expression of AFP in nonmalignant liver can occur, particularly in a subset of progenitor cells and during chronic inflammation, at levels typically lower than in HCC. This cancer-specific overexpression indicates that AFP may be a promising target for immunotherapy. We verified expression of AFP in normal and diseased tissue and generated an affinity-optimized T-cell receptor (TCR) with specificity to AFP/HLA-A*02+ tumors. Expression of AFP was investigated using database searches, by qPCR, and by immunohistochemistry (IHC) analysis of a panel of human tissue samples, including normal, diseased, and malignant liver. Using in vitro mutagenesis and screening, we generated a TCR that recognizes the HLA-A*02-restricted AFP158-166 peptide, FMNKFIYEI, with an optimum balance of potency and specificity. These properties were confirmed by an extension of the alanine scan (X-scan) and testing TCR-transduced T cells against normal and tumor cells covering a variety of tissues, cell types, and human leukocyte antigen (HLA) alleles. Conclusion: We have used a combination of physicochemical, in silico, and cell biology methods for optimizing a TCR for improved affinity and function, with properties that are expected to allow TCR-transduced T cells to differentiate between antigen levels on nonmalignant and cancer cells. T cells transduced with this TCR constitute the basis for a trial of HCC adoptive T-cell immunotherapy.

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