Natural killer cell engagers in cancer immunotherapy: Next generation of immuno-oncology treatments

Eur J Immunol. 2021 Aug;51(8):1934-1942. doi: 10.1002/eji.202048953. Epub 2021 Jun 18.


Immuno-oncology is revolutionizing the treatment of cancers, by inducing the recognition and elimination of tumor cells by the immune system. Recent advances have focused on generating or unleashing tumor antigen-specific T-cell responses, leading to alternative treatment paradigms for many cancers. Despite these successes, the clinical benefit has been limited to a subset of patients and certain tumor types, highlighting the need for alternative strategies. One innovative approach is to broaden and amplify antitumoral immune responses by targeting innate immunity. Particularly, the aim has been to develop new antibody formats capable of stimulating the antitumor activity of innate immune cells, boosting not only their direct role in tumor elimination, but also their function in eliciting multicellular immune responses ultimately resulting in long-lasting tumor control by adaptive immunity. This review covers the development of a new class of synthetic molecules, natural killer cell engagers (NKCEs), which are built from fragments of monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) and are designed to harness the immune functions of NK cells in cancer. As currently shown in preclinical studies and clinical trials, NKCEs are promising candidates for the next generation of tumor immunotherapies.

Keywords: Cancer immunotherapy; NK cells; Natural Killer cell engagers (NKCEs).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Immunotherapy / trends*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / immunology*
  • Medical Oncology / trends*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological