Hematopoietic cell transplantation donor-derived memory-like NK cells functionally persist after transfer into patients with leukemia

Melissa M. Berrien-Elliott, Jennifer A. Foltz, David A. Russler-Germain, Carly C. Neal, Jennifer Tran, Margery Gang, Pamela Wong, Bryan Fisk, Celia C. Cubitt, Nancy D. Marin, Alice Y. Zhou, Miriam T. Jacobs, Mark Foster, Timothy Schappe, Ethan McClain, Samantha Kersting-Schadek, Sweta Desai, Patrick Pence, Michelle Becker-Hapak, Jeremy EiseleMatthew Mosior, Lynne Marsala, Obi L. Griffith, Malachi Griffith, Saad M. Khan, David H. Spencer, John F. DiPersio, Rizwan Romee, Geoffrey L. Uy, Camille N. Abboud, Armin Ghobadi, Peter Westervelt, Keith Stockerl-Goldstein, Mark A. Schroeder, Fei Wan, Wen Rong Lie, Patrick Soon-Shiong, Allegra Petti, Amanda F. Cashen, Todd A. Fehniger

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46 Scopus citations


Natural killer (NK) cells are innate lymphoid cells that eliminate cancer cells, produce cytokines, and are being investigated as a nascent cellular immunotherapy. Impaired NK cell function, expansion, and persistence remain key challenges for optimal clinical translation. One promising strategy to overcome these challenges is cytokine-induced memory-like (ML) differentiation, whereby NK cells acquire enhanced antitumor function after stimulation with interleukin-12 (IL-12), IL-15, and IL-18. Here, reduced-intensity conditioning (RIC) for HLA-haploidentical hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) was augmented with same-donor ML NK cells on day +7 and 3 weeks of N-803 (IL-15 superagonist) to treat patients with relapsed/refractory acute myeloid leukemia (AML) in a clinical trial (NCT02782546). In 15 patients, donor ML NK cells were well tolerated, and 87% of patients achieved a composite complete response at day +28, which corresponded with clearing high-risk mutations, including TP53 variants. NK cells were the major blood lymphocytes for 2 months after HCT with 1104-fold expansion (over 1 to 2 weeks). Phenotypic and transcriptional analyses identified donor ML NK cells as distinct from conventional NK cells and showed that ML NK cells persisted for over 2 months. ML NK cells expressed CD16, CD57, and high granzyme B and perforin, along with a unique transcription factor profile. ML NK cells differentiated in patients had enhanced ex vivo function compared to conventional NK cells from both patients and healthy donors. Overall, same-donor ML NK cell therapy with 3 weeks of N-803 support safely augmented RIC haplo-HCT for AML.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberabm1375
JournalScience translational medicine
Issue number633
StatePublished - Feb 23 2022


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