BACKGROUND: A defining pathophysiologic feature of sepsis is profound apoptosis-induced death and depletion of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. Interleukin-7 (IL-7) is an antiapoptotic common γ-chain cytokine that is essential for lymphocyte proliferation and survival. Clinical trials of IL-7 in over 390 oncologic and lymphopenic patients showed that IL-7 was safe, invariably increased CD4+ and CD8+ lymphocyte counts, and improved immunity. METHODS: We conducted a prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of recombinant human IL-7 (CYT107) in patients with septic shock and severe lymphopenia. Twenty-seven patients at academic sites in France and the United States received CYT107 or placebo for 4 weeks. Primary aims were to determine the safety of CYT107 in sepsis and its ability to reverse lymphopenia. RESULTS: CYT107 was well tolerated without evidence of inducing cytokine storm or worsening inflammation or organ dysfunction. CYT107 caused a 3- to 4-fold increase in absolute lymphocyte counts and in circulating CD4+ and CD8+ T cells that persisted for weeks after drug administration. CYT107 also increased T cell proliferation and activation. CONCLUSIONS: This is the first trial of an immunoadjuvant therapy targeting defects in adaptive immunity in patients with sepsis. CYT107 reversed the marked loss of CD4+ and CD8+ immune effector cells, a hallmark of sepsis and a likely key mechanism in its morbidity and mortality. CYT107 represents a potential new way forward in the treatment of patients with sepsis by restoring adaptive immunity. Such immune-based therapy should be broadly protective against diverse pathogens including multidrug resistant bacteria that preferentially target patients with impaired immunity. TRIAL REGISTRATION: Trials registered at clinicaltrials.gov: NCT02640807 and NCT02797431. FUNDING: Revimmune, NIH National Institute of General Medical Sciences GM44118.
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