Effect of Attachment Site on Stability of Cleavable Antibody Drug Conjugates

The systemic stability of the antibody–drug linker is crucial for delivery of an intact antibody–drug conjugate (ADC) to target-expressing tumors. Linkers stable in circulation but readily processed in the target cell are necessary for both safety and potency of the delivered conjugate. Here, we report a range of stabilities for an auristatin-based payload site-specifically attached through a cleavable valine-citrulline-<i>p</i>-aminobenzylcarbamate (VC-PABC) linker across various sites on an antibody. We demonstrate that the conjugation site plays an important role in determining VC-PABC linker stability in mouse plasma, and that the stability of the linker positively correlates with ADC cytotoxic potency both in vitro and in vivo. Furthermore, we show that the VC-PABC cleavage in mouse plasma is not mediated by Cathepsin B, the protease thought to be primarily responsible for linker processing in the lysosomal degradation pathway. Although the VC-PABC cleavage is not detected in primate plasma in vitro, linker stabilization in the mouse is an essential prerequisite for designing successful efficacy and safety studies in rodents during preclinical stages of ADC programs. The divergence of linker metabolism in mouse plasma and its intracellular cleavage offers an opportunity for linker optimization in the circulation without compromising its efficient payload release in the target cell.