CRISPR/Cas9 CISH deletion enhances the metabolic fitness and anti-tumor activity of armored IL-15 secreting cord blood derived CAR-NK cells
Immune checkpoint therapy has resulted in remarkable improvements in the outcome for certain cancers. To broaden the clinical impact of checkpoint targeting, we devised a strategy that couples targeting of the cytokine-inducible SH2-containing (CIS) protein, a key negative regulator of interleukin (IL)-15 signaling, with fourth generation 'armored' chimeric antigen receptor (CAR-IL-15) engineering of cord blood (CB) derived natural killer (NK) cells. This combined strategy boosted NK cell effector function through enhancing the Akt/mTORC1 axis and c-MYC signaling, resulting in increased aerobic glycolysis. When tested in a lymphoma mouse model, this combined approach improved NK cell anti-tumor activity more than either alteration alone, eradicating lymphoma xenografts without signs of any measurable toxicity. We conclude that targeting a cytokine checkpoint further enhances the antitumor activity of IL-15 secreting armored CAR-NK cells by promoting their metabolic fitness and anti-tumor activity. This combined approach represents a promising milestone in the development of the next generation of NK cells for cancer immunotherapy.