Rapamycin enhances BCG-specific γδ T cells during intravesical BCG therapy for non-muscle invasive bladder cancer: a randomized, double-blind study.

Although intravesical BCG is the standard treatment of high-grade non-muscle invasive bladder cancer (NMIBC), response rates remain unsatisfactory. In preclinical models, rapamycin enhances BCG vaccine efficacy against tuberculosis and the killing capacity of γδ T cells, which are critical for BCG's antitumor effects.

Here, we monitored immunity, safety, and tolerability of rapamycin combined with BCG in patients with NMIBC.

A randomized double-blind trial of oral rapamycin (0.5 or 2.0 mg daily) versus placebo for 1 month was conducted in patients with NMIBC concurrently receiving 3 weekly BCG instillations (NCT02753309). The primary outcome was induction of BCG-specific γδ T cells, measured as a percentage change from baseline. Post-BCG urinary cytokines and immune cells were examined as surrogates for local immune response in the bladder. Secondary outcomes measured were adverse events (AEs) and tolerability using validated patient-reported questionnaires.

Thirty-one patients were randomized (11 placebo, 8 rapamycin 2.0 mg, and 12 rapamycin 0.5 mg). AEs were similar across groups and most were grade 1-2. One (12.5%) patient randomized to 2.0 mg rapamycin was taken off treatment due to stomatitis. No significant differences in urinary symptoms, bowel function, or bother were observed between groups. The median (IQR) percentage change in BCG-specific γδ T cells from baseline per group was as follows: -26% (-51% to 24%) for placebo, 9.6% (-59% to 117%) for rapamycin 0.5 mg (versus placebo, p=0.18), and 78.8% (-31% to 115%) for rapamycin 2.0 mg (versus placebo, p=0.03). BCG-induced cytokines showed a progressive increase in IL-8 (p=0.02) and TNF-α (p=0.04) over time for patients on rapamycin 2.0 mg, whereas patients receiving placebo had no significant change in urinary cytokines. Compared with placebo, patients receiving 2.0 mg rapamycin had increased urinary γδ T cells at the first week of BCG (p=0.02).

Four weeks of 0.5 and 2.0 mg oral rapamycin daily is safe and tolerable in combination with BCG for patients with NMIBC. Rapamycin enhances BCG-specific γδ T cell immunity and boosts urinary cytokines during BCG treatment. Further study is needed to determine long-term rapamycin safety, tolerability and effects on BCG efficacy.

Journal for immunotherapy of cancer. 2021 Mar [Epub]

Niannian Ji, Neelam Mukherjee, Ryan M Reyes, Jonathan Gelfond, Martin Javors, Joshua J Meeks, David J McConkey, Zhen-Ju Shu, Chethan Ramamurthy, Ryan Dennett, Tyler J Curiel, Robert S Svatek

Experimental Developmental Therapeutics (EDT) Program, Mays Cancer Center at UT Health MD Anderson, San Antonio, Texas, USA., Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, UT Health San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas, USA., Department of Psychiatry, UT Health San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas, USA., Departments of Urology, and Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, Illinois, USA., Greenberg Bladder Cancer Institute, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA., Experimental Developmental Therapeutics (EDT) Program, Mays Cancer Center at UT Health MD Anderson, San Antonio, Texas, USA .

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