First published April 30, 2019 - More info
T cell therapy is a promising means to treat chronic HBV infection and HBV-associated hepatocellular carcinoma. T cells engineered to express an HBV-specific T cell receptor (TCR) may achieve cure of 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 from chronic hepatitis B patients 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 4-5 log or below detection limit. When — as in a typical clinical setting — only a minority of hepatocytes were infected, engineered T cells specifically cleared infected hepatocytes without damaging non-infected cells. Cell death was compensated by hepatocyte proliferation and alanine amino transferase levels peaking at day 5 to 7 normalized again thereafter. Co-treatment 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.