MM cells express high levels of CD38, while CD38 is expressed at relatively low levels on normal lymphoid and myeloid cells, and in some non-hematopoietic tissues. This expression profile, together with the role of CD38 in adhesion and as ectoenzyme, resulted in the development of CD38 antibodies for the treatment of multiple myeloma (MM). At this moment several CD38 antibodies are at different phases of clinical testing, with daratumumab already approved for various indications both as monotherapy and in combination with standards of care in MM. CD38 antibodies have Fc-dependent immune effector mechanisms, such as complement-dependent cytotoxicity (CDC), antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC), and antibody-dependent cellular phagocytosis (ADCP). Inhibition of ectoenzymatic function and direct apoptosis induction may also contribute to the efficacy of the antibodies to kill MM cells. The CD38 antibodies also improve host-anti-tumor immunity by the elimination of regulatory T cells, regulatory B cells, and myeloid-derived suppressor cells. Mechanisms of primary and/or acquired resistance include tumor-related factors, such as reduced cell surface expression levels of the target antigen and high levels of complement inhibitors (CD55 and CD59). Differences in frequency or activity of effector cells may also contribute to differences in outcome. Furthermore, the microenvironment protects MM cells to CD38 antibody-induced ADCC by upregulation of anti-apoptotic molecules, such as survivin. Improved understanding of modes of action and mechanisms of resistance has resulted in rationally designed CD38-based combination therapies, which will contribute to further improvement in outcome of MM patients.
van de Donk, N. W. C. J., & Usmani, S. Z. (2018). CD38 antibodies in multiple myeloma: Mechanisms of action and modes of resistance. Frontiers in Immunology, 9(SEP), . https://doi.org/10.3389/fimmu.2018.02134