Chimeric Antigen Receptor-Engineered NK-92 Cells: An Off-the-Shelf Cellular Therapeutic for Targeted Elimination of Cancer Cells and Induction of Protective Antitumor Immunity

Front Immunol. 2017 May 18;8:533. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.00533. eCollection 2017.


Significant progress has been made in recent years toward realizing the potential of natural killer (NK) cells for cancer immunotherapy. NK cells can respond rapidly to transformed and stressed cells and have the intrinsic potential to extravasate and reach their targets in almost all body tissues. In addition to donor-derived primary NK cells, also the established NK cell line NK-92 is being developed for adoptive immunotherapy, and general safety of infusion of irradiated NK-92 cells has been established in phase I clinical trials with clinical responses observed in some of the cancer patients treated. To enhance their therapeutic utility, NK-92 cells have been modified to express chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) composed of a tumor-specific single chain fragment variable antibody fragment fused via hinge and transmembrane regions to intracellular signaling moieties such as CD3ζ or composite signaling domains containing a costimulatory protein together with CD3ζ. CAR-mediated activation of NK cells then bypasses inhibitory signals and overcomes NK resistance of tumor cells. In contrast to primary NK cells, CAR-engineered NK-92 cell lines suitable for clinical development can be established from molecularly and functionally well-characterized single cell clones following good manufacturing practice-compliant procedures. In preclinical in vitro and in vivo models, potent antitumor activity of NK-92 variants targeted to differentiation antigens expressed by hematologic malignancies, and overexpressed or mutated self-antigens associated with solid tumors has been found, encouraging further development of CAR-engineered NK-92 cells. Importantly, in syngeneic mouse tumor models, induction of endogenous antitumor immunity after treatment with CAR-expressing NK-92 cells has been demonstrated, resulting in cures and long-lasting immunological memory protecting against tumor rechallenge at distant sites. Here, we summarize the current status and future prospects of CAR-engineered NK-92 cells as off-the-shelf cellular therapeutics, with special emphasis on ErbB2 (HER2)-specific NK-92 cells that are approaching clinical application.

Keywords: NK-92; adoptive cancer immunotherapy; chimeric antigen receptor; leukemia; lymphoma; natural killer cells; solid tumors.