The Bruton tyrosine kinase inhibitor (BTKi) ibrutinib has transformed chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) therapy but requires continuous administration. These factors have spurred interest in combination treatments. Unlike with chemotherapy, CD20-directed antibody therapy has not improved the outcome of BTKi treatment. Whereas CD20 antigen density on CLL cells decreases during ibrutinib treatment, the B-cell activating factor (BAFF) and its receptor (BAFF-R) remain elevated. Furthermore, BAFF signaling via noncanonical NF-kB remains elevated with BTKi treatment. Blocking BAFF interaction with BAFF-R by using VAY-736, a humanized defucosylated engineered antibody directed against BAFF-R, antagonized BAFF-mediated apoptosis protection and signaling at the population and single-cell levels in CLL cells. Furthermore, VAY-736 showed superior antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity compared with CD20- and CD52-directed antibodies used in CLL. VAY-736 exhibited in vivo activity as a monotherapy and, when combined with ibrutinib, produced prolonged survival compared with either therapy alone. The in vivo activity of VAY-736 is dependent upon immunoreceptor tyrosine–based activation motif (ITAM)–mediated activation of effector cells as shown by using an ITAM-deficient mouse model. Collectively, our findings support targeting the BAFF signaling pathway with VAY-736 to more effectively treat CLL as a single agent and in combination with ibrutinib.
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