Preclinical evaluation and first-in-dog clinical trials of PBMC-expanded natural killer cells for adoptive immunotherapy in dogs with cancer

April, 04, 2024 | Select Oncology Journal Articles


Natural killer (NK) cells are cytotoxic cells capable of recognizing heterogeneous cancer targets without prior sensitization, making them promising prospects for use in cellular immunotherapy. Companion dogs develop spontaneous cancers in the context of an intact immune system, representing a valid cancer immunotherapy model. Previously, CD5 depletion of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) was used in dogs to isolate a CD5dim-expressing NK subset prior to co-culture with an irradiated feeder line, but this can limit the yield of the final NK product. This study aimed to assess NK activation, expansion, and preliminary clinical activity in first-in-dog clinical trials using a novel system with unmanipulated PBMCs to generate our NK cell product.


Starting populations of CD5-depleted cells and PBMCs from healthy beagle donors were co-cultured for 14 days, phenotype, cytotoxicity, and cytokine secretion were measured, and samples were sequenced using the 3’-Tag-RNA-Seq protocol. Co-cultured human PBMCs and NK-isolated cells were also sequenced for comparative analysis. In addition, two first-in-dog clinical trials were performed in dogs with melanoma and osteosarcoma using autologous and allogeneic NK cells, respectively, to establish safety and proof-of-concept of this manufacturing approach.


Calculated cell counts, viability, killing, and cytokine secretion were equivalent or higher in expanded NK cells from canine PBMCs versus CD5-depleted cells, and immune phenotyping confirmed a CD3-NKp46+ product from PBMC-expanded cells at day 14. Transcriptomic analysis of expanded cell populations confirmed upregulation of NK activation genes and related pathways, and human NK cells using well-characterized NK markers closely mirrored canine gene expression patterns. Autologous and allogeneic PBMC-derived NK cells were successfully expanded for use in first-in-dog clinical trials, resulting in no serious adverse events and preliminary efficacy data. RNA sequencing of PBMCs from dogs receiving allogeneic NK transfer showed patient-unique gene signatures with NK gene expression trends in response to treatment.


Overall, the use of unmanipulated PBMCs appears safe and potentially effective for canine NK immunotherapy with equivalent to superior results to CD5 depletion in NK expansion, activation, and cytotoxicity. Our preclinical and clinical data support further evaluation of this technique as a novel platform for optimizing NK immunotherapy in dogs.

For Additional News from OncWeekly – Your Front Row Seat To The Future of Cancer Care –




Sign up for our emails

Trusted insights straight to your inbox and get the latest updates from OncWeekly

Privacy Policy