Natural killer (NK) cells expressing chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) are a promising anticancer immunotherapy, leveraging both innate NK cell antitumor activity and target-specific cytotoxicity. Inducible MyD88/CD40 (iMC) is a potent, rimiducid-regulated protein switch that has been deployed previously as a T-cell activator to enhance proliferation and persistence of CAR-modified T cells. In this study, iMC was extended to CAR-NK cells to enhance their growth and augment cytotoxicity against tumor cells. iMC-activated NK cells substantially increased cytokine and chemokine secretion and displayed higher levels of perforin and granzyme B degranulation. In addition, iMC activation could be coupled with ectopic interleukin-15 (IL-15) to further enhance NK cell proliferation. When coexpressed with a target-specific CAR (CD123 or BCMA), this IL-15/iMC system showed further augmented antitumor activity through enhanced CAR-NK cell expansion and cytolytic activity. To protect against potential toxicity from engineered NK cells, an orthogonal rapamycin-regulated Caspase-9 (iRC9) was included in a 4-gene, dual-switch platform. After infusion of dual-switch NK cells, pharmacologic iRC9 dimerization led to rapid elimination of a majority of expanded transduced NK cells. Thus, CAR-NK cells utilizing dual molecular switches provide an innovative and effective approach to cancer immunotherapy with controlled specificity, efficacy, and safety.
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