Natural killer (NK) cells are innate cytotoxic lymphocytes involved in the surveillance and elimination of cancer. As we have learned more and more about the mechanisms NK cells employ to recognize and eliminate tumor cells, and how, in turn, cancer evades NK cell responses, we have gained a clear appreciation that NK cells can be harnessed in cancer immunotherapy. Here, we review the evidence for NK cells’ critical role in combating transformed and malignant cells, and how cancer immunotherapies potentiate NK cell responses for therapeutic purposes. We highlight cutting-edge immunotherapeutic strategies in preclinical and clinical development such as adoptive NK cell transfer, chimeric antigen receptor–expressing NK cells (CAR-NKs), bispecific and trispecific killer cell engagers (BiKEs and TriKEs), checkpoint blockade, and oncolytic virotherapy. Further, we describe the challenges that NK cells face (e.g., postsurgical dysfunction) that must be overcome by these therapeutic modalities to achieve cancer clearance.
Jonathan J. Hodgins, Sarwat T. Khan, Maria M. Park, Rebecca C. Auer, Michele Ardolino