Programmable bacteria induce durable tumor regression and systemic antitumor immunity

Nat Med. 2019 Jul;25(7):1057-1063. doi: 10.1038/s41591-019-0498-z. Epub 2019 Jul 3.


Synthetic biology is driving a new era of medicine through the genetic programming of living cells1,2. This transformative approach allows for the creation of engineered systems that intelligently sense and respond to diverse environments, ultimately adding specificity and efficacy that extends beyond the capabilities of molecular-based therapeutics3-6. One particular area of focus has been the engineering of bacteria as therapeutic delivery systems to selectively release therapeutic payloads in vivo7-11. Here we engineered a non-pathogenic Escherichia coli strain to specifically lyse within the tumor microenvironment and release an encoded nanobody antagonist of CD47 (CD47nb)12, an anti-phagocytic receptor that is commonly overexpressed in several human cancer types13,14. We show that delivery of CD47nb by tumor-colonizing bacteria increases activation of tumor-infiltrating T cells, stimulates rapid tumor regression, prevents metastasis and leads to long-term survival in a syngeneic tumor model in mice. Moreover, we report that local injection of CD47nb-expressing bacteria stimulates systemic tumor-antigen-specific immune responses that reduce the growth of untreated tumors, providing proof-of-concept for an abscopal effect induced by an engineered bacterial immunotherapy. Thus, engineered bacteria may be used for safe and local delivery of immunotherapeutic payloads leading to systemic antitumor immunity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD47 Antigen / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Escherichia coli / genetics*
  • Genetic Engineering
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Single-Domain Antibodies / genetics*


  • CD47 Antigen
  • Single-Domain Antibodies