Natural killer (NK) cells are a promising alternative to T cells for cancer immunotherapy. Adoptive therapies with allogeneic, cytokine-activated NK cells are being investigated in clinical trials. However, the optimal cytokine support after adoptive transfer to promote NK cell expansion, and persistence remains unclear. Correlative studies from 2 independent clinical trial cohorts treated with major histocompatibility complex-haploidentical NK cell therapy for relapsed/refractory acute myeloid leukemia revealed that cytokine support by systemic interleukin-15 (IL-15; N-803) resulted in reduced clinical activity, compared with IL-2. We hypothesized that the mechanism responsible was IL-15/N-803 promoting recipient CD8 T-cell activation that in turn accelerated donor NK cell rejection. This idea was supported by increased proliferating CD8+ T-cell numbers in patients treated with IL-15/N-803, compared with IL-2. Moreover, mixed lymphocyte reactions showed that IL-15/N-803 enhanced responder CD8 T-cell activation and proliferation, compared with IL-2 alone. Additionally, IL-15/N-803 accelerated the ability of responding T cells to kill stimulator-derived memory-like NK cells, demonstrating that additional IL-15 can hasten donor NK cell elimination. Thus, systemic IL-15 used to support allogeneic cell therapy may paradoxically limit their therapeutic window of opportunity and clinical activity. This study indicates that stimulating patient CD8 T-cell allo-rejection responses may critically limit allogeneic cellular therapy supported with IL-15. This trial was registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov as #NCT03050216 and #NCT01898793.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1177-1183
Number of pages7
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 24 2022


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