T cell therapy is a promising means to treat chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) infection and HBV-associated hepatocellular carcinoma. T cells engineered to express an HBV-specific T cell receptor (TCR) may cure an HBV infection upon adoptive transfer. We investigated the therapeutic potential and safety of T cells stably expressing high-affinity HBV envelope– or core–specific TCRs recognizing European and Asian HLA-A2 subtypes. Both CD8+ and CD4+ T cells from healthy donors and patients with chronic hepatitis B became polyfunctional effector cells when grafted with HBV-specific TCRs and eliminated HBV from infected HepG2-NTCP cell cultures. A single transfer of TCR-grafted T cells into HBV-infected, humanized mice controlled HBV infection, and virological markers declined by 4 to 5 log or below the detection limit. Engineered T cells specifically cleared infected hepatocytes without damaging noninfected cells when, as in a typical clinical setting, only a minority of hepatocytes were infected. Cell death was compensated by hepatocyte proliferation, and alanine amino transferase levels peaking between days 5 and 7 normalized again thereafter. Cotreatment with the entry inhibitor myrcludex B ensured long-term control of HBV infection. Thus, T cells stably transduced with highly functional TCRs have the potential to mediate clearance of HBV-infected cells, causing limited liver injury.
Karin Wisskirchen, Janine Kah, Antje Malo, Theresa Asen, Tassilo Volz, Lena Allweiss, Jochen M. Wettengel, Marc Lütgehetmann, Stephan Urban, Tanja Bauer, Maura Dandri, Ulrike Protzer