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A single, oral dose of the TLR7 agonist JNJ-64794964 induces transcriptomic and phenotypic changes in peripheral immune cells in healthy adults.

BACKGROUND: Chronic hepatitis B (CHB) is responsible for major disease burden worldwide. However, the number of available therapies is limited; cure remains an elusive goal. JNJ-64794964 (JNJ-4964) is an oral toll-like receptor-7 (TLR7) agonist being evaluated for the treatment of CHB. Here, we investigated the capacity of JNJ-4964 to induce transcriptomic and immune cell changes in peripheral blood in healthy volunteers.

METHODS: Peripheral blood was collected in the JNJ-4964 first-in-human phase 1 trial at multiple time points to assess transcriptomics and changes in frequency and phenotype of peripheral-blood mononuclear cells. Correlation of changes to JNJ-4964 exposure (Cmax ) and changes in cytokine levels (C-X-C motif chemokine ligand 10 [CXCL10] and interferon alpha [IFN-α]) were evaluated.

RESULTS: Fifty-nine genes, mainly interferon-stimulated genes, were up-regulated between 6 hours and 5 days after JNJ-4964 administration. JNJ-4964 increased frequencies of CD69, CD134, CD137, and/or CD253-expressing natural killer (NK) cells, indicative of NK cell activation. These changes correlated with Cmax , increase of CXCL10, and induction of IFN-α and were observed at IFN-α levels that are associated with no/acceptable flu-like adverse events. JNJ-4964 administration resulted in increased frequencies of CD86-expressing B cells, indicative of B-cell activation. These changes were predominantly observed at high IFN-α levels, which are associated with flu-like adverse events.

CONCLUSIONS: JNJ-4964 administration led to changes in transcriptional profiles and immune cell activation phenotype, particularly for NK cells and B cells. Together, these changes could represent a set of biomarkers for the characterization of the immune response in CHB patients receiving TLR7 agonists.

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