Realizing Innate Potential: CAR-NK Cell Therapies for Acute Myeloid Leukemia

Cancers (Basel). 2021 Mar 29;13(7):1568. doi: 10.3390/cancers13071568.


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.

Keywords: CAR-NK; acute myeloid leukemia; immunotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review