Realizing Innate Potential: CAR-NK Cell Therapies for Acute Myeloid Leukemia
Apoptosis Research Center, National University of Ireland Galway, H91 TK33 Galway, Ireland
ONK Therapeutics Ltd., H91 V6KV Galway, Ireland
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Academic Editors: Nicola Stefano Fracchiolla and Francesco Onida
Cancers 2021, 13(7), 1568; https://doi.org/10.3390/cancers13071568
Received: 20 February 2021 / Revised: 21 March 2021 / Accepted: 25 March 2021 / Published: 29 March 2021
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Hematologic Malignancy)
Infusions of T-cells genetically modified to recognize the protein CD19 (CD19 CAR-T cells) have proven a potent form of cancer therapy for certain cancers arising from B-cells. These treatments, while revolutionary, remain expensive to manufacture using a patients’ own cells and can have considerable side effects. There is great interest in improving upon and expanding the reach of these new treatments to other cancer types. Natural killer (NK) cells are an alternative cell population with unique properties which can also be modified to recognize specific proteins (CAR-NK cells). The properties of CAR-NK cells should allow manufacturing from healthy donor cells with rapid availability and potentially fewer side effects. NK cells have an innate ability to target acute myeloid leukemia (AML). In this review article, we consider the potential that CAR-NK cells possess to enhance this effect and offer a new type of immunotherapy for AML.
Next-generation cellular immunotherapies seek to improve the safety and efficacy of approved CD19 chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell products or apply their principles across a growing list of targets and diseases. Supported by promising early clinical experiences, CAR modified natural killer (CAR-NK) cell therapies represent a complementary and potentially off-the-shelf, allogeneic solution. While acute myeloid leukemia (AML) represents an intuitive disease in which to investigate CAR based immunotherapies, key biological differences to B-cell malignancies have complicated progress to date. As CAR-T cell trials treating AML are growing in number, several CAR-NK cell approaches are also in development. In this review we explore why CAR-NK cell therapies may be particularly suited to the treatment of AML. First, we examine the established role NK cells play in AML biology and the existing anti-leukemic activity of NK cell adoptive transfer. Next, we appraise potential AML target antigens and consider common and unique challenges posed relative to treating B-cell malignancies. We summarize the current landscape of CAR-NK development in AML, and potential targets to augment CAR-NK cell therapies pharmacologically and through genetic engineering. Finally, we consider the broader landscape of competing immunotherapeutic approaches to AML treatment. In doing so we evaluate the innate potential, status and remaining barriers for CAR-NK based AML immunotherapy.