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IJMS, Vol. 22, Pages 11057: NK Cell-Dependent Antibody-Mediated Immunotherapy Is Improved In Vitro and In Vivo When Combined with Agonists for Toll-like Receptor 2 in Head and Neck Cancer Models

International Journal of Molecular Sciences doi: 10.3390/ijms222011057

Mandy Gruijs
Sonja H. Ganzevles
Marijke Stigter-van Walsum
Richard van der Mast
Monique M. van Ostaijen-ten Dam
Cornelis W. Tuk
Marco W. Schilham
C. René Leemans
Ruud H. Brakenhoff
Marjolein van Egmond
Rieneke van de Ven
Jantine E. Bakema

The immunosuppressive character of head and neck cancers may explain the relatively low response rates to antibody therapy targeting a tumor antigen, such as cetuximab, and anti-PD-1 checkpoint inhibition. Immunostimulatory agents that overcome tumor-derived inhibitory signals could augment therapeutic efficacy, thereby enhancing tumor elimination and improving patient survival. Here, we demonstrate that cetuximab treatment combined with immunostimulatory agonists for Toll-like receptor (TLR) 2 induces profound immune responses. Natural killer (NK) cells, isolated from healthy individuals or patients with head and neck cancer, harbored enhanced cytotoxic capacity and increased tumor-killing potential in vitro. Additionally, combination treatment increased the release of several pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines by NK cells. Tumor-bearing mice that received cetuximab and the TLR2 ligand Pam3CSK4 showed increased infiltration of immune cells into the tumors compared to mice that received cetuximab monotherapy, resulting in a significant delay in tumor growth or even complete tumor regression. Moreover, combination treatment resulted in improved overall survival in vivo. In conclusion, combining tumor-targeting antibody-based immunotherapy with TLR stimulation represents a promising treatment strategy to improve the clinical outcomes of cancer patients. This treatment could well be applied together with other therapeutic strategies such as anti-PD-(L)1 checkpoint inhibition to further overcome immunosuppression.

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