Anti–BAFF-R antibody VAY-736 demonstrates promising preclinical activity in CLL and enhances effectiveness of ibrutinib

Emily M. McWilliams, Christopher R. Lucas, Timothy Chen, Bonnie K. Harrington, Ronni Wasmuth, Amanda Campbell, Kerry A. Rogers, Carolyn M. Cheney, Xiaokui Mo, Leslie A. Andritsos, Farrukh T. Awan, Jennifer Woyach, William E. Carson III, Jonathan Butchar, Susheela Tridandapani, Erin Hertlein, Carlos E. Castro, Natarajan Muthusamy and John C. Byrd

Key Points

  • The anti–BAFF-R antibody VAY-736 enhances antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity and blocks BAFF-mediated survival signaling in human CLL.

  • VAY-736 enhances the in vivo activity of ibrutinib in a murine model of chronic lymphocytic leukemia through an ITAM-mediated mechanism.


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-κB 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.

  • Submitted September 4, 2018.
  • Accepted January 2, 2019.
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