NYMC Faculty Publications

The Future of Natural Killer Cell Immunotherapy for B Cell Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (B Cell NHL)

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Current Treatment Options in Oncology

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Natural killer (NK) cells have played a critical-if largely unrecognized or ignored-role in the treatment of B cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) since the introduction of CD20-directed immunotherapy with rituximab as a cornerstone of therapy over 25 years ago. Engagement with NK cells leading to lysis of NHL targets through antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity (ADCC) is a critical component of rituximab's mechanism of action. Despite this important role, the only aspect of B cell NHL therapy that has been adopted as standard therapy that even indirectly augments or restores NK cell function is the introduction of obinutuzumab, a CD20 antibody with enhanced ability to engage with NK cells. However, over the last 5 years, adoptive immunotherapy with effector lymphocytes of B cell NHL has experienced tremendous growth, with five different CAR T cell products now licensed by the FDA, four of which target CD19 and have approved indications for some subtype of B cell NHL-axicabtagene ciloleucel, brexucabtagene autoleucel, lisocabtagene maraleucel, and tisagenlecleucel. These T cell-based immunotherapies essentially mimic the recognition, activation pathway, and cytotoxic machinery of a CD19 antibody engaging NK cells and lymphoma targets. Despite their efficacy, these T cell-based immunotherapies have been difficult to implement because they require 4-6 weeks of manufacture, are costly, and have significant toxicities. This renewed interest in the potential of cellular immunity-and the manufacturing, supply chain, and administration logistics that have been addressed with these new agents-have ignited a new wave of enthusiasm for NK cell-directed therapies in NHL. With high safety profiles and proven anti-lymphoma efficacy, one or more new NK cell-directed modalities are certain to be introduced into the standard toolbox of NHL therapy within the next few years, be it function-enhancing cytokine muteins, multi-domain NK cell engagers, or adoptive therapy with expanded or genetically modified NK cells.