While novel immunotherapy regimens show promise in treating cutaneous melanoma, effective therapies for advanced uveal melanoma remain a clear unmet need in the field for a disease that is highly treatment refractory and leads to dismal patient survival rates. Adoptive cell therapy (ACT) is a form of immunotherapy with strong potential to improve the outcome for uveal melanoma patients. ACT involves the ex vivo isolation and expansion of antigen-specific, tumor-reactive T cells that are infused into the patient with the aim of mediating disease regression and maintaining a durable response. Our group has demonstrated that longer persistence of adoptively transferred cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) in patients with cutaneous melanoma correlates with improved clinical response, and we have accordingly developed an in vitro process using IL-21 to generate long-lived central memory-type T cells whose in vivo survival extends up to years from the time of infusion. Following our crucial identification of an epitope of the melanoma-associated transporter protein SLC45A2 that is highly expressed in uveal melanoma cells but not in normal melanocytes and capable of eliciting a potent cytotoxic response against uveal melanoma cell lines, we will evaluate this epitope and search for others within the same protein that can mediate adoptively transferred CTL-driven uveal melanoma disease regression. Specifically, we propose a Phase I study in which we will determine the safety and clinical efficacy of ACT targeting SLC45A2 in patients with metastatic uveal melanoma. This study will include a dose- escalation cohort of SLC45A2-specific CTL primed by IL-21 to enrich for central-memory-like CD8 T cells, followed by an expansion cohort of the same CTL at a dose without limiting toxicities in combination with CTLA4 blockade (ipilimumab). We have previously demonstrated the ability of this combination to achieve complete, durable responses with strong T cell persistence and antigen-spreading in refractory metastatic melanoma. To evaluate the study, we will measure in vivo persistence of transferred SLC45A2-specific T cells at weekly intervals and correlate with clinical response, and additionally assess induction of a multivalent T cell response through antigen-spreading. Finally, in an effort to expand the number of melanoma patients eligible for SLC45A2-targeted immunotherapy, we will, 1) identify additional epitopes from this protein that may be presented by other prevalent HLA class allotypes, and 2) search for HLA class II-restricted peptides from SLC45A2 to boost helper T cell-mediated amplification of the anti-tumor immune response. These studies represent a critical new avenue for uveal melanoma treatment using targeted immunotherapy, which holds the potential to improve patient survival for this challenging malignancy.
Advanced uveal melanoma is refractory to conventional therapy, highly prone to development of metastatic disease, and associated with dismal one-year patient survival of 10-15%. We propose a Phase I study evaluating the use of adoptive cell therapy directed against an epitope of SLC45A2, a protein with elevated expression in and capable of driving a potent cytotoxic response against uveal melanoma cells. Analyses will determine persistence of transferred SLC45A2-specific T cells in the patient, their ability to induce antigen spreading, and search for additional immunogenic epitopes with the goal of identifying a safe and effective new therapy option for uveal melanoma patients for further clinical development.