Interest in adoptive cell therapy for treating cancer is exploding owing to early clinical successes of autologous chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T lymphocyte therapy. However, limitations using T cells and autologous cell products are apparent as they (1) take weeks to generate, (2) utilize a 1:1 donor-to-patient model, (3) are expensive, and (4) are prone to heterogeneity and manufacturing failures. CAR T cells are also associated with significant toxicities, including cytokine release syndrome, immune effector cell–associated neurotoxicity syndrome, and prolonged cytopenias. To overcome these issues, natural killer (NK) cells are being explored as an alternative cell source for allogeneic cell therapies. NK cells have an inherent ability to recognize cancers, mediate immune functions of killing and communication, and do not induce graft-versus-host disease, cytokine release syndrome, or immune effector cell–associated neurotoxicity syndrome. NK cells can be obtained from blood or cord blood or be derived from hematopoietic stem and progenitor cells or induced pluripotent stem cells, and can be expanded and cryopreserved for off-the-shelf availability. The first wave of point-of-care NK cell therapies led to the current allogeneic NK cell products being investigated in clinical trials with promising preliminary results. Basic advances in NK cell biology and cellular engineering have led to new translational strategies to block inhibition, enhance and broaden target cell recognition, optimize functional persistence, and provide stealth from patients’ immunity. This review details NK cell biology, as well as NK cell product manufacturing, engineering, and combination therapies explored in the clinic leading to the next generation of potent, off-the-shelf cellular therapies for blood cancers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)856-868
Number of pages13
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 23 2023


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