HIV/AIDS

Coding Dimension ID: 
293
Coding Dimension path name: 
HIV/AIDS

Physical and biological mechanisms of hMSC induction in the cartilage microenvironment

Funding Type: 
Basic Biology II
Grant Number: 
DR1-06893
Investigator: 
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$0
Disease Focus: 
HIV/AIDS
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
Within the shake of a hand, one can tell that bone is hard, skin is soft, and muscle is in between. The physical properties of each of these tissues are important for their distinct functions in the body. At a much smaller scale, a cell uses its sense of ‘touch’ to determine the physical properties of its surroundings. In this way, cells can discern if they reside in a bone, skin, or muscle microenvironment. Not only do cells sense the stiffness of their environment, but they also respond to it. The physical properties of the matrix microenvironment direct key cellular decisions including cell division, migration, and cell fate selection. For a stem cell, this information is a valuable cue that instructs it to select a cell fate that matches the physical surroundings. Experimentally, a stem cell becomes a bone cell when grown on a stiff matrix but it becomes a brain cell on a soft one. In the body, a multitude of physical and biochemical cues cooperate to direct intricate cell fate decisions. Relative to well-studied biochemical cues, we are just beginning to understand how cells sense and respond to physical cues. Despite their importance in stem cell biology, we know almost nothing about how physical cues interact with biochemical cues to instruct stem cells to select a specific fate. Our research seeks to understand how stem cells integrate physical and biochemical cues to select a cell fate. We discovered a specific combination of physical and biochemical cues that, when combined, drive adult human mesenchymal stem cells to select a cartilage cell fate. Culture of these stem cells on a cartilage-like matrix stiffness greatly intensifies their response to biochemical signals to induce cartilage production. By investigating the molecular basis of this response, we have novel insights into the way cells integrate physical and biochemical cues. Building on this foundation, we will uncover new mechanisms by which stem cells sense and respond to their surroundings to select a specific fate. While this research is important for understanding cartilage cell fate selection, these fundamental mechanisms will inform many aspects of stem cell biology, including the maintenance of pluripotency and the selection of multiple cell fates. Although our primary focus is the discovery of basic cellular mechanisms, our model system has important clinical relevance. More than 6 million Californians suffer from osteoarthritis, a disease characterized by the loss of cartilage physical properties. Understanding the interaction of physical and biochemical cues in cartilage may elucidate the cause of osteoarthritis while advancing new therapies to treat it. Already, our research suggests that the combination of biochemical and physical cues enhances the utility of human mesenchymal stem cells for cartilage repair. The results of our work will be applied to promote development of a stem cell-based therapy for cartilage repair.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
This project investigates the cues that direct human mesenchymal stem cells to select a cartilage cell fate. Despite the fact that this stem cell source is very attractive for stem cell-based cartilage repair, several obstacles have limited its clinical application. Our research has identified a novel combination of biochemical and physical cues that overcomes a number of these obstacles. Although we still do not understand how these cues exert their beneficial effects, this strategy has significant therapeutic potential. By investigating the mechanisms by which these cues promote cartilage cell differentiation, this research may advance the translation of these findings to a clinical setting, which would have significant impact on the state of California. Approximately 6 million adults in California, or 27% of the population have some form of arthritis. This disease costs California nearly $32 billion each year, with an estimated $23.2 billion spent on direct medical care and $8.3 billion due to lost wages. Osteoarthritis is a disabling disease that limits the ability to engage in the regular physical activity that prevents obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Consequently, successful development of improved arthritis therapies will benefit the health of a significant portion of the California population. In addition to the health of Californians, cell-based therapies for arthritis and other musculoskeletal conditions provide a huge commercial opportunity for California industry. Support from Proposition 71 increases the likelihood that such therapies are developed in partnership with California companies. Clearly their economic success will provide employment opportunities for Californians, tax revenue for the state, and help maintain California as a world leader in biotechnology research and development. Finally, by investigating the cellular response to physical cues, this work has implications for other stem cell based-therapies as well as for biomaterials design. Physical cues that promote a specific cell fate decision can be engineered into novel biomaterials that are used to deliver stem cell-based therapies to any target tissue. Again, these advances have the potential to improve the health of California citizens and to create commercial opportunities for California biotechnology companies.
Progress Report: 
  • CAL-USA-11 is a Phase I/II human study designed to assess the safety, feasibility, and tolerability of the Cal-1 product in HIV-infected individuals who have previously been on ART but are not currently taking any antiretroviral agent. The objective of the Cal-1 therapy is to increase the number of protected cells in the body of an individual infected with HIV to the point where the virus is incapable of causing harm. This would potentially reduce or eliminate the need for a lifetime of antiretroviral therapy.
  • In 1996, scientists determined that CCR5 is the primary co-receptor by which HIV enters and infects T cells. Most people inherit two normal copies (one from each parent) of the gene that codes for the CCR5 protein. However, about 1% of the European population has a mutation in both of these copies. Because they do not produce any CCR5, these individuals are naturally resistant to HIV infection.
  • This clinical trial is a first-in-human test of Calimmune’s one-time outpatient gene therapy that has been designed to confer a similar genetic resistance to the T cells and hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells of HIV-infected patients. This will be accomplished by reducing CCR5 expression through a process called RNA interference (RNAi), and preventing HIV entry through the use of a membrane-bound fusion inhibitor.
  • As such, our approach seeks to protect target cells from HIV via two distinct mechanisms. The potential benefit of this combined approach is twofold: Because we are treating stem cells along with T cells, we will be creating the potential for the progeny of the stem cells to also exhibit genetic resistance to HIV and therefore repopulate the participant’s immune system; and because we are utilizing a dual therapy, we minimize the possibility of cellular infection via different or mutated HIV strains.
  • The study is enrolling participants at sites in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Calif., under the direction of Principal Investigators Ronald Mitsuyasu, M.D., of UCLA and Jacob P. Lalezari, M.D., of Quest Clinical Research in San Francisco.
  • The first participant was infused with Cal-1 treated T cells and hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPC) in June 2013. Since then, additional participants have also been infused.
  • The study has three arms. All participants will receive the Cal-1 product. Participants in two of the three study arms will also receive different doses of a drug known as busulfan prior to the infusion, which has the potential to make the therapy more effective.
  • Laboratory assessments performed throughout the course of the study will monitor:
  • • the participants’ general health and level of HIV infection;
  • • the participants’ level of CD4+ T cells;
  • • the presence of Cal-1 modified cells in various cell types in the blood and lymphoid tissue; and
  • • the safety of the approach.
  • The primary objectives of the study are to evaluate:
  • • The safety, feasibility, and tolerability of Cal-1 gene-transduced hematopoietic cell populations.
  • • The safety and tolerability of low- and moderate-dose busulfan as a non-myeloablative conditioning agent as a means to improve engraftment of transduced HSPC.
  • The study is open to men and women ages 18 to 65 who are HIV-infected but do not have any other serious medical conditions. Participants must have been well-controlled on ART in the past, but must not be taking ART currently.
  • Full details of the study are available at:
  • http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01734850?term=NCT01734850&rank=1

GENE-MODIFIED HEMATOPOIETIC STEM/PROGENITOR CELL BASED THERAPY FOR HIV DISEASE

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-06893
Investigator: 
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$8 278 722
Disease Focus: 
HIV/AIDS
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Progress Report: 
  • CAL-USA-11 is a Phase I/II human study designed to assess the safety, feasibility, and tolerability of the Cal-1 product in HIV-infected individuals who have previously been on ART but are not currently taking any antiretroviral agent. The objective of the Cal-1 therapy is to increase the number of protected cells in the body of an individual infected with HIV to the point where the virus is incapable of causing harm. This would potentially reduce or eliminate the need for a lifetime of antiretroviral therapy.
  • In 1996, scientists determined that CCR5 is the primary co-receptor by which HIV enters and infects T cells. Most people inherit two normal copies (one from each parent) of the gene that codes for the CCR5 protein. However, about 1% of the European population has a mutation in both of these copies. Because they do not produce any CCR5, these individuals are naturally resistant to HIV infection.
  • This clinical trial is a first-in-human test of Calimmune’s one-time outpatient gene therapy that has been designed to confer a similar genetic resistance to the T cells and hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells of HIV-infected patients. This will be accomplished by reducing CCR5 expression through a process called RNA interference (RNAi), and preventing HIV entry through the use of a membrane-bound fusion inhibitor.
  • As such, our approach seeks to protect target cells from HIV via two distinct mechanisms. The potential benefit of this combined approach is twofold: Because we are treating stem cells along with T cells, we will be creating the potential for the progeny of the stem cells to also exhibit genetic resistance to HIV and therefore repopulate the participant’s immune system; and because we are utilizing a dual therapy, we minimize the possibility of cellular infection via different or mutated HIV strains.
  • The study is enrolling participants at sites in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Calif., under the direction of Principal Investigators Ronald Mitsuyasu, M.D., of UCLA and Jacob P. Lalezari, M.D., of Quest Clinical Research in San Francisco.
  • The first participant was infused with Cal-1 treated T cells and hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPC) in June 2013. Since then, additional participants have also been infused.
  • The study has three arms. All participants will receive the Cal-1 product. Participants in two of the three study arms will also receive different doses of a drug known as busulfan prior to the infusion, which has the potential to make the therapy more effective.
  • Laboratory assessments performed throughout the course of the study will monitor:
  • • the participants’ general health and level of HIV infection;
  • • the participants’ level of CD4+ T cells;
  • • the presence of Cal-1 modified cells in various cell types in the blood and lymphoid tissue; and
  • • the safety of the approach.
  • The primary objectives of the study are to evaluate:
  • • The safety, feasibility, and tolerability of Cal-1 gene-transduced hematopoietic cell populations.
  • • The safety and tolerability of low- and moderate-dose busulfan as a non-myeloablative conditioning agent as a means to improve engraftment of transduced HSPC.
  • The study is open to men and women ages 18 to 65 who are HIV-infected but do not have any other serious medical conditions. Participants must have been well-controlled on ART in the past, but must not be taking ART currently.
  • Full details of the study are available at:
  • http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01734850?term=NCT01734850&rank=1

Liver Disease Team

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01490
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$0
Disease Focus: 
HIV/AIDS
Immune Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
Because there is still considerable morbidity and mortality associated with the process of whole liver transplantation, and because more than a thousand people die each year while on the liver transplantation list, and tens of thousands more never get on the list because of the lack of available livers, it is evident that improved and safer liver transplantation would be valuable, as would approaches that provide for an increased number of transplantations in a timely manner. A technology that might address these issues is the development of a human liver cell line that can be employed in liver cell transplantation or in a bioartificial liver. Developing such a cell line from human embryonic stem cells (hESC) would provide a valuable tool for pharmacology studies, as well as for use in cell-based therapeutics. The objective of this proposal is to focus a team effort to determine which differentiated hESC will be the most effective liver-like cells in cell culture and in animal studies, and to then use the best cells in clinical trials of cell transplantation in patients with advanced liver disease. In the proposed studies, the team will differentiate hESC so that they act like liver cells in culture. Once it has been established that the cells are acting like liver cells by producing normal human liver proteins, and that they do not result in tumors, the cells will be assessed in clinically-relevant models using techniques that can then be adapted to future human clinical trials. One of the ways cells can be evaluated is to label the cells which will provide a means to monitor them with various imaging systems. The intent in these studies is to determine which will be the most effective cells to use in human clinical trials. Once this is determined, the best cells can then be employed in human patients. If the studies are successfully undertaken, we will have established a clinically useful and viable liver cell line that could be used to repopulate an injured liver in a safer and less expensive manner than with whole liver transplantation. Moreover, all people who have liver failure or an inherited liver disease could be treated, because there would be an unlimited supply of liver cells.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
In California, as in all parts of the US, there are not enough livers available for transplantation for all the people who need them. The result is that many more people die of liver failure than is necessary. One way to improve this situation is the transplantation of liver cells rather than whole organ transplantation. We are attempting to develop liver cell lines from stem cells that will act like normal liver cells. If the cells that we develop function well and do not act like cancer cells in culture, the cells will be assessed in clinically-relevant models using techniques that can then be adapted to future human clinical trials. In our studies, we will compare human embryonic stem cells with other stem cells to determine which will be the most effective cells to transplant into people. Finally, we will employ the best cells in clinical trials in humans. If the studies are successfully undertaken, we will have established a clinically useful and viable liver cell line that could be used to repopulate an injured liver in a safer and less expensive manner than with whole liver transplantation. Moreover, all people who have liver failure or an inherited liver disease could be treated, because there would be an unlimited supply of liver cells.
Progress Report: 
  • During the first year of the project, we have made significant progress in meeting the first milestone of the project: Defining the final process of genetically modifying hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPC) (Item #14, Milestone M3 of Gantt chart). In addition, initial effort has started in Phase II Scale-up/Pre-clinical testing (G15) and more specifically, in hematopoietic stem/progenitor cell processing development (G16).
  • Some 10 years ago it was discovered that patients homozygous for a natural mutation (the delta 32 mutation) in the CCR5 gene are generally resistant to HIV infection by blocking virus entry to a cell. Building on this observation, a study published in 2009 reported a potential "cure" in an AIDS patient with leukemia after receiving a bone marrow transplant from a donor with this delta 32 CCR5 mutation. This approach transferred the hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPC) residing in the bone marrow from the delta 32 donor, and provided a self-renewable and lifelong source of HIV-resistant immune cells. After transplantation, this patient was able to discontinue all anti-HIV drug treatment, the CD4 count increased, and the viral load dropped to undetectable levels, demonstrating an effective transplantation of protection from HIV and suggesting that this approach could have broad clinical utility.
  • But donors with the delta 32 CCR5 mutation are not generally available, and so how could we engineer an analogous CCR5 negative state in human HSC to be used for bone marrow transplantation, including a patient’s own HSPC? A potential answer comes from zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) which have been demonstrated to efficiently block the activity of a gene by cleaving the human genome at a predetermined site and altering the genetic sequence via an error-prone DNA repair process. This modification of the cellular DNA is permanent and can fully block gene function. Recently, ZFNs have been shown to inactivate CCR5 in primary human CD4 T cells, allowing them to preferentially survive and expand in the presence of HIV. A human clinical trial evaluating this approach is on-going, in which patient T cells are re-infused after ZFN-treatment to block CCR5 expression and possibly provide an HIV-resistant reservoir of CD4 T cells.
  • This CIRM Disease Team proposed an approach to modify a patient’s own HSPC to circumvent the need to find matched donors that carry the delta 32 CCR5 mutation and yet provide a renewable and long-lasting source of HIV-resistant cells. Testing of this concept is proposed in selected AIDS lymphoma patients who routinely undergo HSPC transplantation. During the second year of this project, the disease team has made considerable progress and met all the project milestones for year 2. More specifically, the team developed an optimized procedure for efficiently introducing the CCR5-specific ZFNs in HSPC. We showed that these modified cells function normally and retain their “stemness” in tissue culture systems. We also showed these modified cells can be transplanted into mice to reconstitute the immune system. Given HSPC are long lasting stem cells, we have been able to stably detect these cells in mice for over 3 months post-transplantation. The team is in the process of scaling up the cell production procedures to ensure we can generate CCR5-modified HSPC at clinical scale. We are also moving ahead with the remaining pre-clinical safety and efficacy studies required before initiating a clinical trial.
  • It is well known that infection with HIV-1 requires a protein called CCR5, and persons with a natural mutation in this gene (CCR532) are protected from HIV/AIDS. Everyone has two copies of the CCR5 gene, one inherited from their mother and one from their father. People with both copies of CCR5 mutated (CCR532/ CCR532) are highly resistant to becoming infected with HIV-1. If only one copy is abnormal (CCR5/ CCR532), infection can occur but progression of the infection to AIDS is delayed. The only clear cure of HIV-1 infection occurred in a patient with leukemia who received a blood stem cell transplant from a tissue-matched donor whose cells carried the double mutation CCR532/CCR532. After transplantation, this patient was able to stop all anti-HIV medicine, the immune system improved, and the level of HIV-1 in the blood dropped to undetectable levels. Even after more than 4 years off anti-HIV medicine, the patient is considered cured, as there is no evidence of an active HIV-1 infection.
  • This Disease Team proposes to treat blood stem cells from an HIV-1 infected person with a protein that can mutate the CCR5 gene, and then transplant these same cells back into the patient to try and reproduce the effects of the CCR532 mutation by providing a renewable and long-lasting source of HIV-1 resistant cells. This will circumvent the need to find a stem cell donor who happens to carry the CCR532/ CCR532 mutation and is a suitable "perfect match" for tissue transplant. The proteins that will be used in this treatment are called Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZFNs). Preliminary results in mice transplanted with ZFN-treated blood stem cells have shown that the modified cells are functional and produce CCR5 mutant progeny cells - including CD4 T cells that are the natural target of HIV-1. Importantly, after HIV-1 infection, the mice demonstrated reduced viral loads, maintenance of CD4 T cells in peripheral tissues, and a powerful survival advantage for the CCR5-negative cells [Holt et al., Nature Biotechnology 2010; 28: 839-47]. These data support the development of this ZFN approach to treat HIV-1 infected patients by first isolating the subjects own blood stem cells, modifying them using CCR5-specific ZFNs, and then re-infusing them back into the patient to thereby reconstitute the immune system with CCR5-mutant, HIV-1 resistant cells. The Disease Team assembled to accomplish this goal has expertise in stem cell technology [City of Hope], HIV-1 infection in pre-clinical mouse models [University of Southern California], and in ZFN-based clinical trial development [Sangamo BioSciences].
  • In the first two years of study, the Disease Team focused on the use of an existing delivery technology for introducing the ZFNs into blood stem cells. This approach used a type of gene therapy vector called an adenoviral vector, which had been previously used in early stage investigational clinical trials for the modification of patients’ T cells. During this phase of the project, the Disease Team was able to establish a method that allowed the large scale manufacture of ZFN-modified blood stem cells under conditions suitable for a clinical trial. These results were recently published [Li L. et al. Molecular Therapy; advance online publication 16 April 2013]. In year 3 of the study, the Disease Team developed a new method for delivering the ZFNs to the blood stem cells using messenger RNA (mRNA, or SB-728mR). Using a process called electroporation, in a technique that involves exposing a mixture of the blood stem cells and the SB-728mR to a transient electrical field, efficient mutation of the CCR5 gene was achieved. These cells were able to be transplanted into mice, where they engrafted and differentiated to generate human immune cells carrying mutated CCR5 genes. This mRNA-based approach has proven to be robust, well-tolerated and eliminates all viral vector components from the manufacturing process. Thus, electroporation of SB-728mR has now been chosen to move into clinical-scale manufacturing and to support our proposed clinical trial. In Year 4 of the study, the Disease Team will complete the necessary studies to demonstrate the safety of these modified blood stem cells, and submit the required federal and local regulatory documents to support the Phase I clinical trial of this new drug.

Develop a cell replacement therapy for Parkinson’s disease using human embryonic stem cells

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01490
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$0
Disease Focus: 
HIV/AIDS
Immune Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
Public Abstract: 
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a devastating movement disorder caused by the death of dopaminergic neurons (a type of nerve cells in the central nervous system) present in the midbrain. These neurons secrete dopamine (a signaling molecule) and are a critical component of the motor circuit that ensures movements are smooth and coordinated. All current treatments attempt to overcome the loss of these neurons by either replacing the lost dopamine, or modulating other parts of the circuit to balance this loss or attempting to halt or delay the loss of dopaminergic neurons. Cell replacement therapy (that is, transplantation of dopaminergic neurons into the brain to replace lost cells and restore function) as proposed in this application attempts to use cells as small pumps of dopamine that will be secreted locally and in a regulated way, and will therefore avoid the complications of other modes of treatment. Indeed, cell therapy using tissue-derived cells have been shown to be successful in multiple transplant studies. Work in the field has been limited however, partially due to the limited availability of cells for transplantation. We believe that human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) may offer a potentially unlimited source of the right kind of cell required for cell replacement therapy. Work in our laboratories and in others has allowed us to develop a process of directing hESC differentiation into dopaminergic neurons. Parallel efforts by clinicians have identified processes to implant the cells safely and to follow their behavior in humans in a safe non-invasive fashion. Equally important, useful animal models for testing cell therapy have been developed. We therefore believe that the time is right to mount a coordinated team effort such as the one we have proposed to approval from the FDA to treat PD using dopaminergic neurons obtained from hESCs. For this proposal we have built a California team with both scientists and clinicians that have the potential to translate a promising idea (a cell therapy for PD) to an IND submission. Our goals include: 1) Identifying a clinically compliant hESC line capable of differentiating into midbrain dopaminergic neurons; 2) Developing protocols for generating and purifying dopaminergic neurons on a large scale; 3) Transferring the protocols to a Good Manufacture Practice (GMP) facility and making clinical grade lots; 4) Testing the quality of the cells in suitable PD animal models (rodents and large animal models); 5) Collecting the data to submit to the FDA for permission to conduct a clinical trial. This application to treat a currently non-curable disease (PD) meets CIRM's primary goal for Disease Team Research Awards and we believe our efforts will help take cell-based therapy for PD to the clinic.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Parkinson’s disease affects more than a million patients United States with a large fraction being present in California. California, which is the home of the Parkinson’s Institute and several Parkinson’s related foundations and patient advocacy groups, has been at the forefront of this research and a large number of California based scientists supported by these foundations and CIRM have contributed to significant breakthroughs in this field. We have assembled a California based team of scientists and clinicians that aim to develop a cell replacement therapy for this currently non-curable disorder. We believe that this proposal which will hire more than thirty employees in California includes the basic elements that are required for the translation of basic research to clinical research. We believe these experiments not only provide a blueprint for moving Parkinson’s disease towards the clinic for people suffering with the disorder but also a generalized blueprint for the development of stem cell therapy for multiple neurological disorders including motor neuron diseases and spinal cord injury. The tools and reagents that we develop will be made widely available to Californian researchers and we will select California-based companies for commercialization of such therapies. We hope that California-based physicians will be at the forefront of developing this promising avenue of research. We expect that the money expended on this research will benefit the Californian research community and the tools and reagents we develop will help accelerate the research of our colleagues in both California and worldwide.
Progress Report: 
  • During the first year of the project, we have made significant progress in meeting the first milestone of the project: Defining the final process of genetically modifying hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPC) (Item #14, Milestone M3 of Gantt chart). In addition, initial effort has started in Phase II Scale-up/Pre-clinical testing (G15) and more specifically, in hematopoietic stem/progenitor cell processing development (G16).
  • Some 10 years ago it was discovered that patients homozygous for a natural mutation (the delta 32 mutation) in the CCR5 gene are generally resistant to HIV infection by blocking virus entry to a cell. Building on this observation, a study published in 2009 reported a potential "cure" in an AIDS patient with leukemia after receiving a bone marrow transplant from a donor with this delta 32 CCR5 mutation. This approach transferred the hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPC) residing in the bone marrow from the delta 32 donor, and provided a self-renewable and lifelong source of HIV-resistant immune cells. After transplantation, this patient was able to discontinue all anti-HIV drug treatment, the CD4 count increased, and the viral load dropped to undetectable levels, demonstrating an effective transplantation of protection from HIV and suggesting that this approach could have broad clinical utility.
  • But donors with the delta 32 CCR5 mutation are not generally available, and so how could we engineer an analogous CCR5 negative state in human HSC to be used for bone marrow transplantation, including a patient’s own HSPC? A potential answer comes from zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) which have been demonstrated to efficiently block the activity of a gene by cleaving the human genome at a predetermined site and altering the genetic sequence via an error-prone DNA repair process. This modification of the cellular DNA is permanent and can fully block gene function. Recently, ZFNs have been shown to inactivate CCR5 in primary human CD4 T cells, allowing them to preferentially survive and expand in the presence of HIV. A human clinical trial evaluating this approach is on-going, in which patient T cells are re-infused after ZFN-treatment to block CCR5 expression and possibly provide an HIV-resistant reservoir of CD4 T cells.
  • This CIRM Disease Team proposed an approach to modify a patient’s own HSPC to circumvent the need to find matched donors that carry the delta 32 CCR5 mutation and yet provide a renewable and long-lasting source of HIV-resistant cells. Testing of this concept is proposed in selected AIDS lymphoma patients who routinely undergo HSPC transplantation. During the second year of this project, the disease team has made considerable progress and met all the project milestones for year 2. More specifically, the team developed an optimized procedure for efficiently introducing the CCR5-specific ZFNs in HSPC. We showed that these modified cells function normally and retain their “stemness” in tissue culture systems. We also showed these modified cells can be transplanted into mice to reconstitute the immune system. Given HSPC are long lasting stem cells, we have been able to stably detect these cells in mice for over 3 months post-transplantation. The team is in the process of scaling up the cell production procedures to ensure we can generate CCR5-modified HSPC at clinical scale. We are also moving ahead with the remaining pre-clinical safety and efficacy studies required before initiating a clinical trial.
  • It is well known that infection with HIV-1 requires a protein called CCR5, and persons with a natural mutation in this gene (CCR532) are protected from HIV/AIDS. Everyone has two copies of the CCR5 gene, one inherited from their mother and one from their father. People with both copies of CCR5 mutated (CCR532/ CCR532) are highly resistant to becoming infected with HIV-1. If only one copy is abnormal (CCR5/ CCR532), infection can occur but progression of the infection to AIDS is delayed. The only clear cure of HIV-1 infection occurred in a patient with leukemia who received a blood stem cell transplant from a tissue-matched donor whose cells carried the double mutation CCR532/CCR532. After transplantation, this patient was able to stop all anti-HIV medicine, the immune system improved, and the level of HIV-1 in the blood dropped to undetectable levels. Even after more than 4 years off anti-HIV medicine, the patient is considered cured, as there is no evidence of an active HIV-1 infection.
  • This Disease Team proposes to treat blood stem cells from an HIV-1 infected person with a protein that can mutate the CCR5 gene, and then transplant these same cells back into the patient to try and reproduce the effects of the CCR532 mutation by providing a renewable and long-lasting source of HIV-1 resistant cells. This will circumvent the need to find a stem cell donor who happens to carry the CCR532/ CCR532 mutation and is a suitable "perfect match" for tissue transplant. The proteins that will be used in this treatment are called Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZFNs). Preliminary results in mice transplanted with ZFN-treated blood stem cells have shown that the modified cells are functional and produce CCR5 mutant progeny cells - including CD4 T cells that are the natural target of HIV-1. Importantly, after HIV-1 infection, the mice demonstrated reduced viral loads, maintenance of CD4 T cells in peripheral tissues, and a powerful survival advantage for the CCR5-negative cells [Holt et al., Nature Biotechnology 2010; 28: 839-47]. These data support the development of this ZFN approach to treat HIV-1 infected patients by first isolating the subjects own blood stem cells, modifying them using CCR5-specific ZFNs, and then re-infusing them back into the patient to thereby reconstitute the immune system with CCR5-mutant, HIV-1 resistant cells. The Disease Team assembled to accomplish this goal has expertise in stem cell technology [City of Hope], HIV-1 infection in pre-clinical mouse models [University of Southern California], and in ZFN-based clinical trial development [Sangamo BioSciences].
  • In the first two years of study, the Disease Team focused on the use of an existing delivery technology for introducing the ZFNs into blood stem cells. This approach used a type of gene therapy vector called an adenoviral vector, which had been previously used in early stage investigational clinical trials for the modification of patients’ T cells. During this phase of the project, the Disease Team was able to establish a method that allowed the large scale manufacture of ZFN-modified blood stem cells under conditions suitable for a clinical trial. These results were recently published [Li L. et al. Molecular Therapy; advance online publication 16 April 2013]. In year 3 of the study, the Disease Team developed a new method for delivering the ZFNs to the blood stem cells using messenger RNA (mRNA, or SB-728mR). Using a process called electroporation, in a technique that involves exposing a mixture of the blood stem cells and the SB-728mR to a transient electrical field, efficient mutation of the CCR5 gene was achieved. These cells were able to be transplanted into mice, where they engrafted and differentiated to generate human immune cells carrying mutated CCR5 genes. This mRNA-based approach has proven to be robust, well-tolerated and eliminates all viral vector components from the manufacturing process. Thus, electroporation of SB-728mR has now been chosen to move into clinical-scale manufacturing and to support our proposed clinical trial. In Year 4 of the study, the Disease Team will complete the necessary studies to demonstrate the safety of these modified blood stem cells, and submit the required federal and local regulatory documents to support the Phase I clinical trial of this new drug.

Development of RNA-based approaches to stem cell gene therapy for HIV

Funding Type: 
Early Translational II
Grant Number: 
TR2-01771
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$3 124 130
Disease Focus: 
HIV/AIDS
Immune Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Despite significant advances in treatment and prevention programs, HIV infection with progression to Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) is still prevalent in California. The CDC Estimates >56,000 new cases of HIV infection each year in the US with over 148,000 cumulative cases reported in California alone (as of 2009). Multi-drug therapy has been helpful in reducing the severity of disease and prolonging lifespan but sixteen of every one hundred HIV patients will eventually fail to control the virus after attempting at least 2 drug treatment regimens. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently estimated the lifetime cost of medical care for AIDS to be in excess of $600,000 per patient, over 85% of which is attributable to prescription drug costs. Additionally, medication non-compliance, intolerance of drugs due to side effects and the development of resistant strains of virus are all complicating factors in obtaining consistent clinical benefit with lifelong drug therapy. Therefore, there is a need to provide a longer lasting, cost effective therapy for this disease. Our project builds on prior work from our laboratories in which genetically engineered blood stem cells were transplanted into HIV patients and shown to give rise to gene-marked peripheral blood cells that last for up to 2 years. These cells may protect HIV patients from progression to AIDS if they are present in sufficient numbers. Our therapeutic candidate is a gene modified human blood stem cell carrying multiple anti-HIV molecules that prevent virus infection, replication and spread and a gene that allows us to chemically “enrich” the number of disease resistant cells present in a patient’s blood. The anti-HIV molecules are made of ribonucleic acid (RNA) and were developed and tested in our laboratories. We have already conducted a first generation stem cell therapy clinical trial to test these molecules with promising results. We now propose to refine and further develop this treatment with second generation RNA molecules and gene transfer procedures that will improve the number of disease resistant cells in the blood of HIV patients. We will develop an animal model system to test newer, more efficient anti-HIV molecules and a drug treatment method to enhance the number of HIV resistant stem cells circulating in the blood of patients that receive gene modified blood stem cells. At the end of the proposed experiments, we expect to have selected the most efficient combination of RNA molecules and drug selection strategy to provide a sufficient number of disease resistant cells in the peripheral blood to prevent progression to clinical immunodeficiency (AIDS).
Statement of Benefit to California: 
California has ~14% of all cases of AIDS in the U.S., and this translates into a medical and fiscal burden larger than any other state except NY. Antiviral chemotherapy accounts for approximately 85% of AIDS-related medical costs, and federal and state law requires that in California the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) be the payer of last resort for these medications. Antiretroviral drugs currently cost about $12,000 per year and account for about $350 million of the California AIDS Drug Assistance Plan's budget. The Governor's spending plan (2009-09 Budget Act) called for $418M to support this program, with funds from several sources including federal (Ryan White Care Act), from an ADAP Rebate Fund, and from the California State General Fund. The ADAP Rebate Fund consists of monies paid to the state by the manufacturers of the drugs provided to the HIV/AIDS clients under the program. The ADAP budget has grown by ~15% yearly for several years, and based on an Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) review, the problem faced is that, as the case load is increasing, support from the Rebate Fund is decreasing. It is projected by LAO that from a level of $80.3 million at end 2008, the Fund will decrease to $24M by the end of 2010. The General Fund currently provides $96.3M to the ADAP budget, and it is projected that as the ADAP Rebate Fund shrinks, the shortfall will have to be met by increases from the General Fund by 2012. The alternative, as noted by LOA, is to implement cost-cutting measures that would likely increase the barriers to receiving care for some patients, impacting the health of some HIV/AIDS patients and increasing the associated public health risks.
Progress Report: 
  • Our goal in the first year of the grant has been to establish a mouse model for HIV infection using hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells (HSPC) from healthy adult donors and to create a series of novel RNA-based vectors that will provide resistance to HIV infection in the progeny of these cells. Dr. DiGiusto's group has successfully demonstrated the ability to reliably engrafted mice with human immune system cells derived from adult HSPC. Among the engrafted cells are CD4+ T-cells and monocytes, the target cells for HIV infection. We have also demonstrated that we can expand the number of HSPC from each donor and maintain their ability to support engraftment of the mice with human T-cells and monocytes. This means that we are able to make a large number of mice with which to screen genetic therapies for HIV. During this period, Dr. Rossi's group has created a 5 new anti-HIV viral vectors that can be used to genetically modify HSPC and impart HIV resistance to the T-cells and monocytes that are derived from these HSPC. Assays performed in culture dishes indicate that 3 of these vectors are very potent HIV inhibitors. Addionally, the vectors contain a gene that will allow us to selectively enrich for those HSPC that carry the gene under specific culture conditions. Thus, we can produce a population highly enriched for disease resistant HSPC. We are now beginning testing of anti-HIV vectors in our mouse model to establish which would be the best for moving towards clinical trials. The ultimate goal of the study is to define the best clinical candidate and we on track for meeting that goal within the timeframe of the grant.
  • In the second year of the CIRM ETR2-01771 project entitled “Development of RNA-based approaches to stem cell gene therapy for HIV” we have made significant progress in the development of a robust animal model of human hematopoietic stem and progenitor cell (HSPC) engraftment, completed the cloning and in vitro testing of the candidate second generation anti-HIV lentiviral vectors and begun testing HIV infectivity of humanized NSG mice. Additionally, we have initiated transplantation of NSG mice with gene modified HSPC to evaluate the level of gene modified CD4+ T-cells and monocytes in vivo. This work will culminate in HIV challenge assays in the final year of the grant and selection of the second generation candidate therapeutic to be used in our clinical development program.
  • We are working on a cure for HIV using blood stem cell transplantation of HIV-infected individuals. We have completed the development of a second generation of anti-HIV genes with potent anti-viral activity and reduced toxicity from our first generation products. We have demonstrated that we can modify adult human blood stem cells with these vectors and that macrophage and T-cell progeny of these modified cells are resistant to HIV infection and spread. We are currently screening the genes to identify the next drug development candidate using a humanized mouse model developed in our laboratory. The completion of these experiments will allow us to immediately move towards clinical testing. This approach to HIV therapy is likley to replace drug therapy and may result in a functional or sterilizing cure for HIV.
  • During the final reporting period for this grant we have completed in vivo testing of our second generation anti-HIV constructs. We have identified a construct (SGLV4) that has an improved safety profile compared to our first generation vectors (less toxic) and superior anti-HIV activity including inhibition of viral replication and protection of CD4+ T-cells and monocytes as demosntrated in our in vivo animal model system. The use of this vector to genetically modify heamtopoietic stem cells may lead to a functional cure for HIV through the provision of an HIV-resistant immune system that will clear virus through normal immune mediated mechanisms. We will move this vector construct into pre-clinical development testing as funds become available through CIRM or other sources (NIH).

Stem cell differentiation to thymic epithelium for inducing tolerance to stem cells

Funding Type: 
Transplantation Immunology
Grant Number: 
RM1-01702
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$1 314 090
Disease Focus: 
Immune Disease
HIV/AIDS
Pediatrics
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
iPS Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
The thymus is an organ that plays a key role in controlling immune responses and immune tolerance. The thymus promotes immune tolerance by deleting and removing self-reactive T cells from the immune system. In addition, the thymus also helps drive the production of important suppressor T cell populations like regulatory T cells that also control immune tolerance. Thus, strategies that expand and improve thymic function could be critical in improving transplantation of tissues derived from embryonic stem cells. The thymus consists of a supporting network of thymic epithelial cells that help bone marrow derived T cell precursors mature and differentiate into fully functional T lymphocytes. Despite their importance, there has been little progress in methods to grow and expand out the supportive thymic epithelial network. This project will explore strategies to grow and expand out functional thymic epithelial cells from human embryonic stem cells using a multi-step culturing technique. These expanded thymic epithelial cells will be characterized and tested for the ability to support T cell development and differentiation. Finally, the expanded thymic epithelial cells will be put into transplantation models in humanized mice to test their ability to improve and enhance the acceptance of transplanted tissues. These studies offer enormous potential for promoting graft-specific immune tolerance in that embryonic stem cells could be differentiated into both a replacement tissue and into functional thymus
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The work in this proposal is designed to help improve the effectiveness of stem cell treatments by preventing immunological rejection of transplanted tissue derived from stem cells. Although significant progress and promise has been shown to use stem cells to regenerate damaged organs for the treatment of a wide variety of diseases, an important barrier to bringing this to the clinic is the potential of the immune system to reject or damage this regenerated tissue. Currently, there are efforts underway to use stem cells to treat diseases that have a wide impact on the health of Californians, including diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, retinal eye diseases, and musculoskeletal diseases to name just a few. The work proposed here will help improve treatment for these diseases by improving the ability to put a break on the immune system to reject or destroy cells or tissues that are derived from stem cells for the treatment of these diseases. Here we will improve methods to grow and expand an important organ that controls the ability of the immune system to be “tolerant” of transplanted tissues called the thymus. If methods to grow and expand the thymus from stem cells can be done, this would represent a significant advance in improving stem cell therapies. Thus, the impact of this work could have a broad impact on a large number of the disease treatments that involve stem cells.
Progress Report: 
  • Through the support of the CIRM we have initiated our efforts to differentiate and grow thymic epithelial cells from human embryonic stem cells. Over the last year we have been culturing human ES cells under different conditions and have examined marker expression in the cells for similarity to thymic epithelium. We have made significant progress, with a number of known markers being upregulated in our cells. We plan to continue similar efforts over the next year and expand our experiments to test whether these cells can induce immune tolerance. These findings are critical for the CIRM in that they may be an important way to keep the immune system in check and prevent immune rejection when ES cell derived material is transplanted.
  • Over the last year we have made significant progress on ability to differentiate stem cells towards a cell lineage that can help contribute to a functional thymus. We have been able to induce a number of key markers of thymic progenitor cells and are also making progress on experiments to confirm the functionality of the differentiated cells. Taken together, these results could have a broad and significant impact on the field of regenerative medicine due to the ability of the thymus to control immune tolerance.
  • Over the last year we have made significant progress on ability to differentiate stem cells towards a cell lineage that can help contribute to a functional thymus. We have been able to induce a number of key markers of thymic progenitor cells and are also making progress on experiments to confirm the functionality of the differentiated cells. Taken together, these results could have a broad and significant impact on the field of regenerative medicine due to the ability of the thymus to control immune tolerance.

Human Embryonic Stem Cell Therapeutic Strategies to Target HIV Disease

Funding Type: 
Comprehensive Grant
Grant Number: 
RC1-00149
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$2 516 831
Disease Focus: 
HIV/AIDS
Immune Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
AIDS is a disease that currently has no cure. It arises when the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infects certain types of blood cells. These cells would normally be used to fight infection, but instead are destroyed by the virus, leading to immunodeficiency. We have recently been able to induce the development of human embryonic stem cells (hESC) into the types of cells that HIV can infect. In addition, we were able to show that a marker gene could be introduced into the hESC, and this gene continued to produce its protein throughout development of the cell into the more mature blood cell types. This sets the stage for testing the possibility of using gene-modified hESC to treat HIV or other immune system diseases. We have 3 different types of anti-HIV genetic approaches that we will test in laboratory models. These will be placed into hESC, and the cells allowed to develop into blood cells. We will then test whether our “therapeutic” genes can inhibit HIV infection in culture. We will also develop novel mouse models that allow development of hESC into blood cells in the body (in vivo). We will test the efficacy of certain of these genetic approaches in these systems, as they should more closely represent the situation in people. These studies will provide proof-of-principle that cells in the immune system can be modified by manipulation of hESC, and may help to develop future therapeutic approaches to combat HIV disease. In addition, these studies will be relevant to other immune system disorders such as autoimmune diseases. It was estimated that by January 31 2005, approximately 151,000 Californians were HIV infected. Furthermore, according to the California HIV Surveillance Report, 1752 new cases of HIV infection (1700 adult and 52 pediatric cases), and 5 deaths were reported between April 1 and September 31, 2006. Current treatment strategies prolong life, but do not cure infection, and are themselves quite toxic. Consequently HIV disease, and improved therapeutic approaches for this disease, are issues of great importance to the people of California.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
Current treatment strategies to halt HIV infection (AIDS) prolong life, but do not cure infection, and are themselves quite toxic. There are over 150,000 Californians infected with the AIDS virus. Consequently HIV disease, and improved therapeutic approaches for this disease, are issues of great importance to the people of California. Our studies will explore the potential of using human embryonic stem cells to fight AIDS and HIV infection. We have shown that human embryonic stem cells can develope into the immune system cells that are destroyed by the AIDS virus. In addition, we are exploring ways to genetically modify these cells (gene therapy) so that they would be protected from infection, and be better able to fight the infection in the body. We hope to eventually use these genetically modified cells to treat HIV infected individuals. If successful, our results may allow HIV infected individuals to discontinue, or greatly reduce the amount of anti-viral drugs that they must now take. This could directly benefit the patients' health, cut the cost of therapy, and allow less productive time lost from work, thus benefitting the State economy as a whole.
Progress Report: 
  • This CIRM grant was designed to explore the potential to genetically manipulate human embryonic stem cells (hESC), to develop new approaches to combat and protect against AIDS virus (HIV) infection. This is an important goal, because even though current anti-HIV medications are quite beneficial, they are expensive, may have unwanted side effects, and must be taken for the remainder of the patient’s life. Stem cell gene therapy approaches may have the ability to provide long-term protective effects for the patient. HIV infects several different types of blood cells, most notably CD4+ T cells and macrophages. Both of these cell types express CD4, the protein that allows the virus to attach to and infect the target cell. Our initial studies optimized macrophage and T cell development from hESC, which should allow us to subsequently introduce our candidate genetic approaches into hESC, and then test the ability of these genes to function in these blood cells derived from hESC. Several different approaches are being tested to maximize the potential for controlling or eliminating HIV from the body of infected individuals, These are in various stages of development. One area that has shown promise, which initially involved the use of hematopoietic stem cells as a prelude to working with hESC, is engineering stem cells such that mature cells that develop from these stem cells can actually attack HIV infected cells. It is our hope that genetically manipulated hESC will allow us to replace cells lost to HIV infection with cells protected against viral infection, and/or to develop strategies that allow the body to defend itself against infection.
  • This CIRM grant was designed to explore the potential to genetically manipulate human embryonic stem cells (hESC), to develop new approaches to combat and protect against AIDS virus (HIV) infection. This is an important goal, because even though current anti-HIV medications are quite beneficial, they are expensive, may have unwanted side effects, and must be taken for the remainder of the patient’s life. Stem cell gene therapy approaches may have the ability to provide long-term protective effects for the patient. HIV infects several different types of blood cells, most notably CD4+ T cells and macrophages. Both of these cell types express CD4, the protein that allows the virus to attach to and infect the target cell. Our initial studies optimized macrophage and T cell development from hESC, which has allowed us to introduce our candidate genetic approaches into hESC, and then test the ability of these genes to function in these blood cells derived from hESC. Several different approaches are being tested, some in hESC and others in hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) to maximize the potential for controlling or eliminating HIV from the body of infected individuals. These are in various stages of development. One area that has shown promise, which initially involved the use of HSC as a prelude to working with hESC, is engineering stem cells such that mature cells that develop from these stem cells can actually attack HIV infected cells. This type of technology could be extended to other chronic infectious diseases or cancers. A second approach involves manipulating cells such that they control virus replication. Development of this latter approach is ongoing. It is our hope that genetically manipulated hESC will allow us to replace cells lost to HIV infection with cells protected against viral infection, and/or to develop strategies that allow the body to defend itself against infection.
  • This CIRM grant was designed to explore the potential of human embryonic stem cells to develop into cells found in the blood, and to adapt these stem cells with genetic approaches to combat infection by the AIDS virus. Over the course of this grant we made significant progress in showing that human embryonic stem cells can develop into several types of blood cells. Importantly this includes T lymphocytes, including cells of the CD4+ T cell lineage and cells of the macrophage lineage, which are the main cell types that can be infected by the AIDS virus. We had originally proposed several genetic strategies to either prevent HIV from productively infecting target cells, or to allow cells to directly attack virally infected target cells. To date we have shown that we can add new genes into human embryonic stem cells, and that we can control their expression in mature T lymphocytes derived from these stem cells, however the process of development of T cells from embryonic stem cells is very difficult and inefficient. We had the most success with one of our three genetic approaches, however to best test the efficacy of this approach, we took a step back and assessed its usefulness using human bone marrow-derived stem cells, which are much easier to convert into mature human T lymphocytes than are human embryonic stem cells. The successful strategy involved the genes for a cell surface molecule, called the T cell receptor (TCR). The TCR is the molecule that normal T lymphocytes use to target and attack foreign or infected cells in the body. These molecules are exquisitely specific for particular foreign particles, and will only recognize a particular pathogenic agent. Thus for example, a TCR specific for measles virus will not detect cells infected with the AIDS virus. We engineered genes encoding a TCR that specifically recognized a part of the AIDS virus that could be detected on infected cells, and inserted these genes into the bone marrow stem cells. Following this, we directed the development of these genetically altered stem cells into T lymphocytes, by implanting them into a mouse that contained human immune tissues required for the development of these cells into a mature state. This strategy allowed the genetically engineered stem cells to develop into CD8+ “killer” T lymphocytes that could detect and kill HIV infected cells. Theses T lymphocytes did not kill normal, uninfected cells, thus we engineered cells that could target and eliminate HIV infected cells. We are continuing to explore this system, and to adapt and improve this method such that it can be employed with human embryonic stem cells.
  • Our project was designed to develop new genetic approaches that could be introduced into stem cells to combat HIV (AIDS virus) infection. We have used this recent time to complete experiments demonstrating that cell surface molecules that direct cytotoxic T cells towards their HIV-infected targets, can be introduced into human blood-forming stem cells. These in turn direct the stem cells to develop into killer T cells that can attack HIV infected cells. We have tested this approach in a new in vivo model, and found it to be highly efficacious. The introduction of this genetic engineering approach allowed the animals to control HIV infection, and preserved the presence of CD4 T cells, which are normally killed by the virus.

Genetic modification of the human genome to resist HIV-1 infection and/or disease progression

Funding Type: 
SEED Grant
Grant Number: 
RS1-00172
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$642 652
Disease Focus: 
HIV/AIDS
Immune Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Embryonic Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
The proposed studies describe the genetic approaches utilizing human embryonic stem cells to suppress and/or eliminate the expression of the human protein CCR5. CCR5 is found on the surface of white blood cells. HIV-1 attaches to CCR5 and uses CCR5 to enter into its target cells. Our approach is to utilize established as well as new non-established approaches to prevent CCR5 from appearing on the surface of the cells. If CCR5 is not present, HIV-1 cannot infect the cells. Interestingly, this concept has already been proven in nature. Approximately 1% of the Caucasian population is genetically deficient for CCR5 and these individuals are resistant to HIV-1 transmission. Their white blood cells, when placed in culture, also resist HIV-1 infection in the laboratory. As such, we believe that our approach can be used to protect high risk individuals from HIV-1 infection as well as impede or stop progression of disease in those individuals already infected.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
According to the Centers for Disease Control, California is second only to New York of individuals living with AIDS. Developing means to stop HIV-1 infection and cure those individuals already infected with HIV-1 is of paramount importance for the state of California.
Progress Report: 
  • The overall goal of this project is to investigate the use of embryonic stem cells and blood stem cells as a potential therapeutic approach for HIV-1 disease. We investigated a process known as RNA interference to block HIV-1 infection. We characterize the properties of cells carrying RNA interference to HIV-1 and developed new tools to facilitate the study.

ZIinc Finger Nuclease-Based Stem Cell Therapy for AIDS

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01490
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$14 583 187
Disease Focus: 
HIV/AIDS
Immune Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Active
Public Abstract: 
Some years ago it was discovered that patients homozygous for a natural mutation (the Δ32 mutation) in the CCR5 gene are generally resistant to HIV infection by blocking virus entry to a cell. Building on this observation, a study published in 2009 reported a potential "cure" in an AIDS patient with leukemia after receiving a bone marrow transplant from a donor with this Δ32 CCR5 mutation. This approach transferred the hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) residing in the bone marrow from the Δ32 donor, and provided a self-renewable and lifelong source of HIV-resistant immune cells. After transplantation, this patient was able to discontinue all anti-HIV drug treatment, the CD4 count increased, and the viral load dropped to undetectable levels, demonstrating an effective transplantation of protection from HIV and suggesting that this approach could have broad clinical utility. But donors with the Δ32 CCR5 mutation are not generally available, and so how could we engineer an analogous CCR5 negative state in human HSC needed for bone marrow transplantation? A potential answer comes from zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) which have been demonstrated to efficiently block the activity of a gene by cleaving the human genome at a predetermined site and altering the genetic sequence via an error-prone DNA repair process. This modification of the cellular DNA is permanent and can fully block gene function. Recently, ZFNs have been shown to inactivate CCR5 in primary human CD4 T cells, allowing them to preferentially survive and expand in the presence of HIV. A human clinical trial evaluating this approach is on-going, in which patient T cells are re-infused after ZFN-treatment to block CCR5 expression and possibly provide an HIV-resistant reservoir of CD4 T cells. The CIRM Disease Team proposes an approach to modify a patient’s own HSC to circumvent the need to find matched donors that carry the Δ32 CCR5 mutation and yet provide a renewable and long-lasting source of HIV-resistant cells. Testing of this concept is proposed in selected AIDS lymphoma patients who routinely undergo HSC transplantation. Preliminary results in mice transplanted with ZFN-treated HSC show that ZFN-modified, CCR5-negative HSC are functional and support the reconstitution of the immune system. Importantly, after HIV infection, these mice have results similar to those observed in the human patient: (i) reduced viral loads, (ii) maintenance of CD4 T cells in peripheral tissues; and (iii) a powerful selective advantage for the CCR5 negative immune cells. These data support the development of a ZFN approach to treat AIDS patients by first isolating their HSC, modifying them using CCR5-specific ZFNs, and re-infusing them to reconstitute the immune system with CCR5-negative, HIV-resistant immune cells.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
California has ~14% of all cases of AIDS in the U.S., and this translates into a medical and fiscal burden larger than any other state except NY. Antiviral chemotherapy accounts for approximately 85% of AIDS-related medical costs, and federal and state law requires that in California the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) be the payer of last resort for these medications. In fiscal year 2007-08, the California AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) served 32,842 clients and filled over 953,000 prescriptions for these clients. The Governor's current spending plan (2009-09 Budget Act) called for $418M to support this program, with funds from several sources including federal (Ryan White Care Act), from an ADAP Rebate Fund, and from the California State General Fund. The ADAP Rebate Fund consists of monies paid to the state by the manufacturers of the drugs provided to the HIV/AIDS clients under the program. The ADAP budget has grown by ~15% yearly for several years, and based on an Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) review, the problem faced is that, as the case load is increasing, support from the Rebate Fund is decreasing. It is projected by LAO that from a level of $80.3 million at end 2007-08, the Fund will decrease to $24M by 2009-10. The General Fund currently provides $96.3M to the ADAP budget, and it is projected that as the ADAP Rebate Fund shrinks, the shortfall will have to be met by increases from the General Fund by 2011-12. The alternative, as noted by LOA, is to implement cost-cutting measures that would likely increase the barriers to receiving care for some patients, impacting the health of some HIV/AIDS patients and increasing the associated public health risks. The basic problem is that HIV/AIDS is a life-long infection and our current strategy of treatment requires that medication be taken daily for a lifetime. Thus, there is a real need to develop a strategy of treatment that has the potential to reduce the duration of antiviral chemotherapy. This will have significant impact on the quality of life for persons with HIV/AIDS. In this proposal, a cellular therapy derived from genetically modified blood stem cells will be developed and preclinical studies completed, leading to its first evaluation in patients. As important is the benefit that the first test of this technology will have on the overall field of embryonic stem cell research. The ZFN technology used here will have application to other diseases and hurdles surmounted now will benefit future embryonic cell research.
Progress Report: 
  • During the first year of the project, we have made significant progress in meeting the first milestone of the project: Defining the final process of genetically modifying hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPC) (Item #14, Milestone M3 of Gantt chart). In addition, initial effort has started in Phase II Scale-up/Pre-clinical testing (G15) and more specifically, in hematopoietic stem/progenitor cell processing development (G16).
  • Some 10 years ago it was discovered that patients homozygous for a natural mutation (the delta 32 mutation) in the CCR5 gene are generally resistant to HIV infection by blocking virus entry to a cell. Building on this observation, a study published in 2009 reported a potential "cure" in an AIDS patient with leukemia after receiving a bone marrow transplant from a donor with this delta 32 CCR5 mutation. This approach transferred the hematopoietic stem/progenitor cells (HSPC) residing in the bone marrow from the delta 32 donor, and provided a self-renewable and lifelong source of HIV-resistant immune cells. After transplantation, this patient was able to discontinue all anti-HIV drug treatment, the CD4 count increased, and the viral load dropped to undetectable levels, demonstrating an effective transplantation of protection from HIV and suggesting that this approach could have broad clinical utility.
  • But donors with the delta 32 CCR5 mutation are not generally available, and so how could we engineer an analogous CCR5 negative state in human HSC to be used for bone marrow transplantation, including a patient’s own HSPC? A potential answer comes from zinc finger nucleases (ZFNs) which have been demonstrated to efficiently block the activity of a gene by cleaving the human genome at a predetermined site and altering the genetic sequence via an error-prone DNA repair process. This modification of the cellular DNA is permanent and can fully block gene function. Recently, ZFNs have been shown to inactivate CCR5 in primary human CD4 T cells, allowing them to preferentially survive and expand in the presence of HIV. A human clinical trial evaluating this approach is on-going, in which patient T cells are re-infused after ZFN-treatment to block CCR5 expression and possibly provide an HIV-resistant reservoir of CD4 T cells.
  • This CIRM Disease Team proposed an approach to modify a patient’s own HSPC to circumvent the need to find matched donors that carry the delta 32 CCR5 mutation and yet provide a renewable and long-lasting source of HIV-resistant cells. Testing of this concept is proposed in selected AIDS lymphoma patients who routinely undergo HSPC transplantation. During the second year of this project, the disease team has made considerable progress and met all the project milestones for year 2. More specifically, the team developed an optimized procedure for efficiently introducing the CCR5-specific ZFNs in HSPC. We showed that these modified cells function normally and retain their “stemness” in tissue culture systems. We also showed these modified cells can be transplanted into mice to reconstitute the immune system. Given HSPC are long lasting stem cells, we have been able to stably detect these cells in mice for over 3 months post-transplantation. The team is in the process of scaling up the cell production procedures to ensure we can generate CCR5-modified HSPC at clinical scale. We are also moving ahead with the remaining pre-clinical safety and efficacy studies required before initiating a clinical trial.
  • It is well known that infection with HIV-1 requires a protein called CCR5, and persons with a natural mutation in this gene (CCR532) are protected from HIV/AIDS. Everyone has two copies of the CCR5 gene, one inherited from their mother and one from their father. People with both copies of CCR5 mutated (CCR532/ CCR532) are highly resistant to becoming infected with HIV-1. If only one copy is abnormal (CCR5/ CCR532), infection can occur but progression of the infection to AIDS is delayed. The only clear cure of HIV-1 infection occurred in a patient with leukemia who received a blood stem cell transplant from a tissue-matched donor whose cells carried the double mutation CCR532/CCR532. After transplantation, this patient was able to stop all anti-HIV medicine, the immune system improved, and the level of HIV-1 in the blood dropped to undetectable levels. Even after more than 4 years off anti-HIV medicine, the patient is considered cured, as there is no evidence of an active HIV-1 infection.
  • This Disease Team proposes to treat blood stem cells from an HIV-1 infected person with a protein that can mutate the CCR5 gene, and then transplant these same cells back into the patient to try and reproduce the effects of the CCR532 mutation by providing a renewable and long-lasting source of HIV-1 resistant cells. This will circumvent the need to find a stem cell donor who happens to carry the CCR532/ CCR532 mutation and is a suitable "perfect match" for tissue transplant. The proteins that will be used in this treatment are called Zinc Finger Nucleases (ZFNs). Preliminary results in mice transplanted with ZFN-treated blood stem cells have shown that the modified cells are functional and produce CCR5 mutant progeny cells - including CD4 T cells that are the natural target of HIV-1. Importantly, after HIV-1 infection, the mice demonstrated reduced viral loads, maintenance of CD4 T cells in peripheral tissues, and a powerful survival advantage for the CCR5-negative cells [Holt et al., Nature Biotechnology 2010; 28: 839-47]. These data support the development of this ZFN approach to treat HIV-1 infected patients by first isolating the subjects own blood stem cells, modifying them using CCR5-specific ZFNs, and then re-infusing them back into the patient to thereby reconstitute the immune system with CCR5-mutant, HIV-1 resistant cells. The Disease Team assembled to accomplish this goal has expertise in stem cell technology [City of Hope], HIV-1 infection in pre-clinical mouse models [University of Southern California], and in ZFN-based clinical trial development [Sangamo BioSciences].
  • In the first two years of study, the Disease Team focused on the use of an existing delivery technology for introducing the ZFNs into blood stem cells. This approach used a type of gene therapy vector called an adenoviral vector, which had been previously used in early stage investigational clinical trials for the modification of patients’ T cells. During this phase of the project, the Disease Team was able to establish a method that allowed the large scale manufacture of ZFN-modified blood stem cells under conditions suitable for a clinical trial. These results were recently published [Li L. et al. Molecular Therapy; advance online publication 16 April 2013]. In year 3 of the study, the Disease Team developed a new method for delivering the ZFNs to the blood stem cells using messenger RNA (mRNA, or SB-728mR). Using a process called electroporation, in a technique that involves exposing a mixture of the blood stem cells and the SB-728mR to a transient electrical field, efficient mutation of the CCR5 gene was achieved. These cells were able to be transplanted into mice, where they engrafted and differentiated to generate human immune cells carrying mutated CCR5 genes. This mRNA-based approach has proven to be robust, well-tolerated and eliminates all viral vector components from the manufacturing process. Thus, electroporation of SB-728mR has now been chosen to move into clinical-scale manufacturing and to support our proposed clinical trial. In Year 4 of the study, the Disease Team will complete the necessary studies to demonstrate the safety of these modified blood stem cells, and submit the required federal and local regulatory documents to support the Phase I clinical trial of this new drug.

HPSC based therapy for HIV disease using RNAi to CCR5.

Funding Type: 
Disease Team Research I
Grant Number: 
DR1-01431
ICOC Funds Committed: 
$9 905 604
Disease Focus: 
HIV/AIDS
Immune Disease
Stem Cell Use: 
Adult Stem Cell
Cell Line Generation: 
Adult Stem Cell
oldStatus: 
Closed
Public Abstract: 
RNA interference is a naturally occurring means to block the function of genes in our body. We propose that RNA interference can be used to block HIV-1 infection and its reproduction within the body. When RNA interference is introduced into a stem cell, its blocking activity will be present throughout the lifetime of the stem cell, theoretically the lifespan of a human being. Thus, in theory an effective stem cell RNA interference therapy will require only a single treatment as opposed to the current lifetime administration of anti-HIV-1 drugs often accompanied by serious side effects. In nature, some individuals carry a genetic mutation that renders them resistant to HIV-1 infection. This mutation prevents HIV-1 from attaching to the white blood cells. Our RNA interference approach will be to mimic this natural situation by blocking the activity of this “co-receptor” within infected individuals by creating a new blood system that carries the RNA interference therapy. This therapy will be developed as a combination with other gene therapeutic reagents to protect the new blood system from HIV infection.
Statement of Benefit to California: 
The need for novel approaches to the treatment of HIV infection has never been greater, because new infections continue to occur at undiminished rates, in California and across the nation, despite decades of prevention efforts. Moreover, the number of people living with HIV is rising steadily, thanks to improved management of HIV infection. As a result, California, which ranks second in the nation in diagnosed cases of HIV infection, behind only New York, has identified 67,500 men, women, and children who carry the virus. (Estimates of the number of Californians who are infected but have yet to be diagnosed range as high as 33,513.) Not all of the state’s HIV-positive residents are currently on therapy, but eventually virtually all of them will be—and many of them will receive their drugs through government-supported programs. In addition, the longer these infected individuals live, the more likely they are to avail themselves of a range of support services that the state pays for. The drugs themselves, which are routinely administered in combination, are initially effective in suppressing viral replication in infected individuals, but their potency diminishes over time, even as the toxic effects of therapy accumulate. California, which is supporting the nation’s second-highest case-load of HIV-positive individuals, can expect to see that number grow at a rate of 5,000-7,000 a year for the foreseeable future. The cost of providing life-sustaining medications and social services to this burgeoning population will also continue to rise, not arithmetically but exponentially—because as increasing numbers of infected individuals fail standard drug regimens, it will be necessary to shift them to newer, more expensive treatments, and as the side effects of therapy become more manifest, it will be necessary to prescribe drugs to combat those toxicities, adding to the overall drug burden for patients and the overall cost of drug therapy for the state. In such circumstances, the prospect of stem-cell based therapy that will require “only a single treatment” is especially compelling. In theory, RNA interference might effectively cure individuals infected with HIV, by blocking the ports through which the virus enters CD4 cells and destroys the body’s immune system. And even if RNA interference proves only partially effective in blocking viral entry, it could significantly suppress viremia while sparing patients the toxicities associated with drug therapy. This would be a boon to infected individuals, but it would also be a benefit to uninfected Californians, because reductions in viremia in infected individuals translate into a reduction in the community burden of HIV infection—and that, in turn, reduces the overall rate of new infections statewide.
Progress Report: 
  • Our overall goal is to file an IND within 4 years for a hematopoietic stem cell based genetic therapy for HIV-1 disease. The concept is that introducing anti-HIV gene therapeutics into hematopoietic stem cells will produce a protected population of T lymphocytes and monocyte/macrophages (the cells specifically infected by HIV) in individuals to decrease viral load and maintain stable T lymphocyte counts. Hemapoietic stem cells are unique in that they are multipotent stem cells that give rise to all the types of blood cells, including T cells and monocytes/macrophages. During the first year we have met each of our key milestones and made significant progress in identifying and testing genetic reagents combined in the context of a lentiviral vector for stable delivery into hematopoietic stem cells. The vector candidates include combinations of gene therapeutics aimed at different stages of HIV replication namely: i) binding to the CCR5 HIV co-receptor (RNA interference to down-regulate CCR5), ii) fusion of the HIV virion to the cell surface (fusion inhibitor), iii) a restriction factor inhibiting translocation of the HIV genomic material from the cell surface to the nucleus (restriction factor) and, iv) inhibition of HIV expression within the cell (RNA interference directed to a key portion of HIV that drives its expression). We are presently identifying the optimal combination and vector/target ratio. We have also tested several reagents designed to increase transduction efficiency of hematopoietic stem cells and have validated assays to examine potential toxicity including genotoxicity of therapeutic vectors. Thus far, we have not seen any general vector-induced toxicity. In order for this gene transfer to be applied to patients, the hemapoietic progenitor stem cell transduction must be scaled up significantly. Experiments are currently in progress maximizing transduction of hemapoietic progenitor stem cells at sufficiently high cell numbers for future therapeutic analysis.
  • HIV-1 therapy requires combinations of reagents in order to effectively suppress HIV-1 replication. We have created several combinations of anti-HIV reagents through genetic engineering, which will eventually be delivered to humans through adult blood stem cells. We have compared the effectiveness and safety of these genetic “vectors” in cell culture and in an advanced mouse model, which allows human blood cells to grow in tissues. In addition, this mouse model allows one to investigate HIV-1 infection within the animals. Through these tests, we narrowed combinations down to those that seem to be the most effective based upon showing no toxicity and possessing the ability to be maintained within human blood cells in the mouse, and resist multiple strains of HIV-1 infection both in cell culture and in the humanized mice.

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