Clinical Research Publications

ROCK2 inhibition attenuates profibrogenic immune cell function to reverse thioacetamide-induced liver fibrosis


2022 Geoffrey Hill

Background & Aims: Fibrosis, the primary cause of morbidity in chronic liver disease, is induced by pro-inflammatory cytokines, immune cell infiltrates, and tissue resident cells that drive excessive myofibroblast activation, collagen production, and tissue scarring. Rho-associated kinase 2 (ROCK2) regulates key pro-fibrotic pathways involved in both inflammatory reactions and altered extracellular matrix remodelling, implicating this pathway as a potential therapeutic target. Methods: We used the thioacetamide-induced liver fibrosis model to examine the efficacy of administration of the selective ROCK2 inhibitor KD025 to prevent or treat liver fibrosis and its impact on immune composition and function. Results: Prophylactic and therapeutic administration of KD025 effectively attenuated thioacetamide-induced liver fibrosis and promoted fibrotic regression. KD025 treatment inhibited liver macrophage tumour necrosis factor production and disrupted the macrophage niche within fibrotic septae. ROCK2 targeting invitro directly regulated macrophage function through disruption of signal transducer and activator of transcription 3 (STAT3)/cofilin signalling pathways leading to the inhibition of pro-inflammatory cytokine production and macrophage migration. Invivo, KDO25 administration significantly reduced STAT3 phosphorylation and cofilin levels in the liver. Additionally, livers exhibited robust downregulation of immune cell infiltrates and diminished levels of retinoic acid receptor-related orphan receptor gamma (RORt) and B-cell lymphoma 6 (Bcl6) transcription factors that correlated with a significant reduction in liver IL-17, splenic germinal centre numbers and serum IgG. Conclusions: As IL-17 and IgG-Fc binding promote pathogenic macrophage differentiation, together our data demonstrate that ROCK2 inhibition prevents and reverses liver fibrosis through direct and indirect effects on macrophage function and highlight the therapeutic potential of ROCK2 inhibition in liver fibrosis. Lay summary: By using a clinic-ready small-molecule inhibitor, we demonstrate that selective ROCK2 inhibition prevents and reverses hepatic fibrosis through its pleiotropic effects on pro-inflammatory immune cell function. We show that ROCK2 mediates increased IL-17 production, antibody production, and macrophage dysregulation, which together drive fibrogenesis in a model of chemical-induced liver fibrosis. Therefore, in this study, we not only highlight the therapeutic potential of ROCK2 targeting in chronic liver disease but also provide previously undocumented insights into our understanding of cellular and molecular pathways driving the liver fibrosis pathology.

Technical Aspects of Flow Cytometry-based Measurable Residual Disease Quantification in Acute Myeloid Leukemia: Experience of the European LeukemiaNet MRD Working Party


2022 Roland Walter; Brent Wood

Measurable residual disease (MRD) quantified by multiparameter flow cytometry (MFC) is a strong and independent prognostic factor in acute myeloid leukemia (AML). However, several technical factors may affect the final read-out of the assay. Experts from the MRD Working Party of the European LeukemiaNet evaluated which aspects are crucial for accurate MFC-MRD measurement. Here, we report on the agreement, obtained via a combination of a cross-sectional questionnaire, live discussions, and a Delphi poll. The recommendations consist of several key issues from bone marrow sampling to final laboratory reporting to ensure quality and reproducibility of results. Furthermore, the experiences were tested by comparing two 8-color MRD panels in multiple laboratories. The results presented here underscore the feasibility and the utility of a harmonized theoretical and practical MFC-MRD assessment and are a next step toward further harmonization.

Unsupervised discovery of dynamic cell phenotypic states from transmitted light movies

PLoS Comput Biol

2021 Raymond Monnat; Hao Kueh; Pamela Becker

Identification of cell phenotypic states within heterogeneous populations, along with elucidation of their switching dynamics, is a central challenge in modern biology. Conventional single-cell analysis methods typically provide only indirect, static phenotypic readouts. Transmitted light images, on the other hand, provide direct morphological readouts and can be acquired over time to provide a rich data source for dynamic cell phenotypic state identification. Here, we describe an end-to-end deep learning platform, UPSIDE (Unsupervised Phenotypic State IDEntification), for discovering cell states and their dynamics from transmitted light movies. UPSIDE uses the variational auto-encoder architecture to learn latent cell representations, which are then clustered for state identification, decoded for feature interpretation, and linked across movie frames for transition rate inference. Using UPSIDE, we identified distinct blood cell types in a heterogeneous dataset. We then analyzed movies of patient-derived acute myeloid leukemia cells, from which we identified stem-cell associated morphological states as well as the transition rates to and from these states. UPSIDE opens up the use of transmitted light movies for systematic exploration of cell state heterogeneity and dynamics in biology and medicine.

COVID-19 Vaccination and Breakthrough Infections in Patients with Cancer

Ann Oncol

2021 Jessica Hawley

BACKGROUND: Vaccination is an important preventive health measure to protect against symptomatic and severe COVID-19. Impaired immunity secondary to an underlying malignancy or recent receipt of anti-neoplastic systemic therapies can result in less robust antibody titres following vaccination and possible risk of breakthrough infection. As clinical trials evaluating COVID-19 vaccines largely excluded patients with a history of cancer and those on active immunosuppression (including chemotherapy), limited evidence is available to inform the clinical efficacy of COVID-19 vaccination across the spectrum of patients with cancer. PATIENTS AND METHODS: We describe the clinical features of patients with cancer who developed symptomatic COVID-19 following vaccination and compare weighted outcomes to those of contemporary unvaccinated patients, after adjustment for confounders, using data from the multi-institutional COVID-19 and Cancer Consortium (CCC19; number, NCT04354701). RESULTS: Patients with cancer who develop COVID-19 following vaccination have substantial comorbidities and can present with severe and even lethal infection. Patients harboring hematologic malignancies are over-represented among vaccinated patients with cancer who develop symptomatic COVID-19. CONCLUSIONS: Vaccination against COVID-19 remains an essential strategy in protecting vulnerable populations, including patients with cancer. However, patients with cancer who develop breakthrough infection despite full vaccination remain at risk of severe outcomes. A multilayered public health mitigation approach that includes vaccination of close contacts, boosters, social distancing, and mask-wearing should be continued for the foreseeable future.

Phase 1b dose-escalation study of the selective, noncovalent, reversible Bruton's tyrosine kinase inhibitor vecabrutinib in B-cell malignancies


2021 Mazyar Shadman

Not available.

Early Remdesivir to Prevent Progression to Severe Covid-19 in Outpatients

N Engl J Med

2021 Joshua Schiffer; Joshua Hill

BACKGROUND: Remdesivir improves clinical outcomes in patients hospitalized with moderate-to-severe coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Whether the use of remdesivir in symptomatic, nonhospitalized patients with Covid-19 who are at high risk for disease progression prevents hospitalization is uncertain. METHODS: We conducted a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial involving nonhospitalized patients with Covid-19 who had symptom onset within the previous 7 days and who had at least one risk factor for disease progression (age 60 years, obesity, or certain coexisting medical conditions). Patients were randomly assigned to receive intravenous remdesivir (200 mg on day 1 and 100 mg on days 2 and 3) or placebo. The primary efficacy end point was a composite of Covid-19-related hospitalization or death from any cause by day 28. The primary safety end point was any adverse event. A secondary end point was a composite of a Covid-19-related medically attended visit or death from any cause by day 28. RESULTS: A total of 562 patients who underwent randomization and received at least one dose of remdesivir or placebo were included in the analyses: 279 patients in the remdesivir group and 283 in the placebo group. The mean age was 50 years, 47.9% of the patients were women, and 41.8% were Hispanic or Latinx. The most common coexisting conditions were diabetes mellitus (61.6%), obesity (55.2%), and hypertension (47.7%). Covid-19-related hospitalization or death from any cause occurred in 2 patients (0.7%) in the remdesivir group and in 15 (5.3%) in the placebo group (hazard ratio, 0.13; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.03 to 0.59; P=0.008). A total of 4 of 246 patients (1.6%) in the remdesivir group and 21 of 252 (8.3%) in the placebo group had a Covid-19-related medically attended visit by day 28 (hazard ratio, 0.19; 95% CI, 0.07 to 0.56). No patients had died by day 28. Adverse events occurred in 42.3% of the patients in the remdesivir group and in 46.3% of those in the placebo group. CONCLUSIONS: Among nonhospitalized patients who were at high risk for Covid-19 progression, a 3-day course of remdesivir had an acceptable safety profile and resulted in an 87% lower risk of hospitalization or death than placebo. (Funded by Gilead Sciences; PINETREE number, NCT04501952; EudraCT number, 2020-003510-12.).

BiTE secretion from in situ-programmed myeloid cells results in tumor-retained pharmacology

J Control Release

2022 Christine Watson; Vaishali Inamdar; Matthias Stephan; Elena Sigmund; Stephanie Weaver; Sirkka Stephan; Fan Zhang; Siyang Hao

Bispecific T-Cell Engagers (BiTEs) are effective at inducing remission in hematologic cancers, but their use in solid tumors has been challenging due to their extreme potency and on-target, off-tumor toxicities in healthy tissue. Their deployment against solid tumors is further complicated by insufficient drug penetration, a hostile tumor microenvironment, and immune escape. To address these challenges, we developed targeted nanocarriers that can deliver in vitro-transcribed mRNA encoding BiTEs to host myeloid cells - a cell type that is actively recruited into the tumor microenvironment. We demonstrate in an immunocompetent mouse model of ovarian cancer, that infusion of these nanoparticles directs BiTE expression to tumor sites, which reshapes the microenvironment from suppressive to permissive and triggers disease regression without systemic toxicity. In contrast, conventional injections of recombinant BiTE protein at doses required to achieve anti-tumor activity, induced systemic inflammatory responses and severe tissue damage in all treated animals. Implemented in the clinic, this in situ gene therapy could enable physicians - with a single therapeutic - to safely target tumor antigen that would otherwise not be druggable due to the risks of on-target toxicity and, at the same time, reset the tumor milieu to boost key mediators of antitumor immune responses.

Cerebrospinal fluid flow cytometry and risk of central nervous system relapse after hyperCVAD in adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia


2021 Elihu Estey; Anna Halpern; Johnnie Orozco; Pamela Becker; Sioban Keel; Philip Stevenson; Roland Walter; Ryan Cassaday; Andrei Shustov; Vivian Oehler; Mary-Elizabeth Percival

BACKGROUND: Potential involvement of the central nervous system (CNS) by acute lymphoblastic leukemia is typically evaluated by a conventional cytospin (CC) of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Multiparameter flow cytometry (MFC) is generally more sensitive and specific than morphology, but data to guide its use versus CC are limited. METHODS: This study identified 92 patients who had MFC performed on their initial CSF specimen and received at least 4 cycles of hyperfractionated cyclophosphamide, vincristine, doxorubicin, and dexamethasone alternating with methotrexate and cytarabine (hyperCVAD) as their initial treatment. RESULTS: Eighteen (20%) were CSF+ by MFC at the baseline, and only 6 of these patients were positive by CC. In contrast, 0 of 51 patients who were negative by MFC and had CC available were positive by CC. Despite the receipt of significantly more intra-CSF chemotherapy (P < .001), the cumulative incidence of CNS relapse by MFC was 22% among CSF+ patients versus 5% among those who were CSF- (P = .044). No such association was observed between CNS relapse and CC results (P = .42). None of the 74 CSF- patients became CSF+ during their initial treatment despite being tested a median of 5 times (range, 2-10). CSF positivity by MFC was the factor most strongly associated with CNS relapse in a series of univariate Cox models (hazard ratio, 3.7; P = .067). The initial CSF status by MFC had no significant impact on overall or event-free survival. CONCLUSIONS: MFC of CSF is superior to CC of CSF in identifying adults at high risk for CNS relapse after treatment with hyperCVAD. Surveillance of CSF by MFC has limited utility.

Atezolizumab alone or in combination did not demonstrate a favorable risk-benefit profile in myelodysplastic syndrome

Blood Adv

2021 Bart Scott

We present here primary results from the phase Ib GO29754 study (NCT02508870) evaluating the safety and tolerability of atezolizumab, a PD-L1 inhibitor, alone and in combination with azacitidine, a hypomethylating agent (HMA), in patients with relapsed/refractory (R/R) or HMA-naïve myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS). R/R MDS patients received atezolizumab for 12 months (Cohort A), or atezolizumab plus azacitidine for six cycles followed by atezolizumab as maintenance for eight cycles (Cohort B). HMA-naïve MDS patients received atezolizumab plus azacitidine until loss of clinical benefit (Cohort C). Safety, activity, and exploratory endpoints were investigated. Forty-six patients were enrolled and received treatment (11 in Cohort A, 14 in Cohort B, 21 in Cohort C). All patients experienced ≥1 adverse event (AE) on study, and all patients discontinued atezolizumab. In Cohort A, seven patients (63.6%) died, and no patients responded. In Cohort B, eight patients (57.1%) discontinued azacitidine, 11 patients (78.6%) died, and two patients (14.3%) responded. In Cohort C, all 21 patients discontinued azacitidine, 13 patients died (61.9%), and 13 patients (61.9%) responded. The study was terminated by the sponsor prior to completing recruitment due to the unexpected high early death rate in Cohort C (6/13 deaths [46.2%] were due to AEs and occurred within the first four treatment cycles.). The high death rate and poor efficacy observed in this study do not support a favorable risk-benefit profile for atezolizumab as a single agent or in combination with azacitidine in R/R or HMA-naïve MDS.

Drug Combinations as a First Line of Defense against Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Viruses


2021 Rachel Bender Ignacio; Shuang Xu; Joshua Schiffer; Stephan Polyak

The world was unprepared for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and remains ill-equipped for future pandemics. While unprecedented strides have been made developing vaccines and treatments for COVID-19, there remains a need for highly effective and widely available regimens for ambulatory use for novel coronaviruses and other viral pathogens. We posit that a priority is to develop pan-family drug cocktails to enhance potency, limit toxicity, and avoid drug resistance. We urge cocktail development for all viruses with pandemic potential both in the short term (<1 to 2 years) and longer term with pairs of drugs in advanced clinical testing or repurposed agents approved for other indications. While significant efforts were launched against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), in vitro and in the clinic, many studies employed solo drugs and had disappointing results. Here, we review drug combination studies against SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses and introduce a model-driven approach to assess drug pairs with the highest likelihood of clinical efficacy. Where component agents lack sufficient potency, we advocate for synergistic combinations to achieve therapeutic levels. We also discuss issues that stymied therapeutic progress against COVID-19, including testing of agents with low likelihood of efficacy late in clinical disease and lack of focus on developing virologic surrogate endpoints. There is a need to expedite efficient clinical trials testing drug combinations that could be taken at home by recently infected individuals and exposed contacts as early as possible during the next pandemic, whether caused by a coronavirus or another viral pathogen. The approach herein represents a proactive plan for global viral pandemic preparedness.