Local and Systemic Immunity During Five Vaccinations Against SARS-CoV-2 in Zanubrutinib-Treated Patients With Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia

Maria Andersson, Jinghua Wu, David Wullimann, Yu Gao, Mikael Aberg, Sandra Muschiol, Katie Healy, Sabrina Naud, Gordana Bogdanovic, Marzia Palma, Hakan Mellstedt, Puran Chen, Hans-Gustaf Ljunggren, Lotta Hansson, Margaret Sallberg Chen, Marcus Buggert, Hanna M. Ingelman-Sundberg, Anders Osterborg


Background: Patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) are vulnerable to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and are at risk of inferior response to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) vaccination, especially if treated with the first-generation Brutons tyrosine kinase inhibitor (BTKi) ibrutinib. We aimed to evaluate the impact of the third-generation BTKi, zanubrutinib, on systemic and mucosal response to SARS-CoV-2 vaccination.

Methods: Nine patients with CLL with ongoing zanubrutinib therapy were included and donated blood and saliva during SARS-CoV-2 vaccination, before vaccine doses 3 and 5 and 2 - 3 weeks after doses 3, 4, and 5. Ibrutinib-treated control patients (n = 7) and healthy aged-matched controls (n = 7) gave blood 2 - 3 weeks after vaccine dose 5. We quantified reactivity and neutralization capacity of SARS-CoV-2-specific IgG and IgA antibodies (Abs) in both serum and saliva, and reactivity of T cells activated with viral peptides.

Results: Both zanubrutinib- and ibrutinib-treated patients had significantly, up to 1,000-fold, lower total spike-specific Ab levels after dose 5 compared to healthy controls (P < 0.01). Spike-IgG levels in serum from zanubrutinib-treated patients correlated well to neutralization capacity (r = 0.68; P < 0.0001) and were thus functional. Mucosal immunity (specific IgA in serum and saliva) was practically absent in zanubrutinib-treated patients even after five vaccine doses, whereas healthy controls had significantly higher levels (tested in serum after vaccine dose 5) (P < 0.05). In contrast, T-cell reactivity against SARS-CoV-2 peptides was equally high in zanubrutinib- and ibrutinib-treated patients as in healthy control donors.

Conclusions: In our small cohort of zanubrutinib-treated CLL patients, we conclude that up to five doses of SARS-CoV-2 vaccination induced no detectable IgA mucosal immunity, which likely will impair the primary barrier defence against the infection. Systemic IgG responses were also impaired, whereas T-cell responses were normal. Further and larger studies are needed to evaluate the impact of these findings on disease protection.

J Hematol. 2023;12(4):170-175
doi: https://doi.org/10.14740/jh1140


CLL; Zanubrutinib; SARS-CoV-2; Immunity; Vaccination

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