Digital PCR Assays for Precise Quantification of CD19-CAR-T Cells after Treatment with Axicabtagene Ciloleucel


Treatment with axicabtagene ciloleucel (Axi-cel) CD19-CAR-T (chimeric antigen receptor T) cells has been approved for refractory/relapsed diffuse large B cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and primary mediastinal large B cell lymphoma (PMBCL). Because treatment success as well as side effects might depend on CAR-T cell expansion in vivo, we aimed at developing digital PCR (dPCR) assays for detection and quantification of CAR-T cells. To this end, we cloned and sequenced the complete cDNA of the CAR construct. We designed different combinations of primers and dual-labeled hydrolysis probes located in various CAR regions. Three combinations were successfully tested on CAR-positive and -negative cells in duplex reactions with a reference gene (REF) to concomitantly assess cell numbers. All assays demonstrated excellent specificity and reproducibility with neglectable inter-assay variations. For all three assays, almost perfect correlation between the two dPCRs (Axi-cel versus REF) was observed, and the limit of detection was one single CAR-transduced cell corresponding to a sensitivity of 0.01% for 100 ng genomic DNA. After cross-validation, we used one assay to monitor Axi-cel CAR-T numbers in patients. CAR-T expansion and contraction followed the expected kinetics with median peak value of 11.2 Axi-cel CAR-T cells/μL at 11.3 days (median). Clinically, we observed only two partial responses (PRs) in the five patients with CAR-T cell peak numbers below median, whereas four of the five patients with comparatively good expansion showed clinical responses (two complete responses [CRs] and two PRs) on day 30. In conclusion, we established a novel dPCR assay for the sensitive detection of transgenic CAR-T cells, which should be very useful in the context of Axi-cel treatment.

Bibliographical data

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 13.03.2020
PubMed 32055645