San Francisco-based cancer immunotherapy company Nkarta Therapeutics (NASDAQ: NKTX) has announced the first-in-human administration of its natural killer cell therapy NKX101 to a patient in a multi-center phase 1 clinical trial.
The study will evaluate the anti-tumor activity, safety, and pharmacokinetics of the therapy in the context of relapsed or refractory acute myeloid leukemia (AML) or higher risk myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), cancers with a considerable need for more effective therapies, particularly among patients that relapse following front-line treatments.
NKX101 cells have been engineered by Nkarta to more readily detect stress-associated molecules that are expressed on the surface of cancer cells at higher levels than on that of normal, healthy cells. In addition, NKX101 cells bear a membrane-bound form of the cytokine IL-15 which enhances their longevity and ability to combat tumors.
Derived from healthy donors, NKX101 natural killer cells are modified outside of the body and infused into cancer patients to mediate treatment. While the cells bear a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that enables the specific targeting of cancer-associated proteins, NKX101 are distinct from CAR T cells, which represent a different class of white blood cells.
Carlos Bachier, MD, stated, “Despite recent treatment breakthroughs, AML patients who relapse after front-line therapy still have poor outcomes, underscoring the need for new treatment options for this aggressive and lethal blood cancer.”
“To date, the significant clinical benefit achieved with CAR T cell therapies in the treatment of B cell lymphomas and acute lymphocytic leukemia has not extended to AML or other myeloid malignant disorders. The investigation of NKG2D-targeting and the tumor-killing potential of an engineered innate immune cell type is a promising new approach,” Dr. Bachier continued.
Chief Medical Officer of Nkarta Kanya Rajangam, MD, PhD, stated, “An extensive body of academic research has already shown increased expression of NKG2D targets in AML and other cancers, and demonstrated clinical responses in relapsed/refractory AML patients who received non-engineered allogeneic NK cells in single center academic studies as treatment.”
“With its amplified NKG2D targeting and enhanced NK cell engineering, NKX101 has the potential to improve upon this earlier clinical experience with non-engineered NK cells and to activate a deep and robust immune response in AML patients,” stated Dr. Rajangam.
Nkarta’s natural killer cell-based immunotherapy shares similarities with that of NantKwest, another California-based biotechnology company focusing on the use of natural killer cells to combat cancer. NantKwest’s therapy is currently being evaluated in multiple phase 2 human clinical trials.