Synergistic Innate and Adaptive Immune Response to Combination Immunotherapy with Anti-Tumor Antigen Antibodies and Extended Serum Half-Life IL-2

The full text of “Synergistic Innate and Adaptive Immune Response to Combination Immunotherapy with Anti-Tumor Antigen Antibodies and Extended Serum Half-Life IL-2” is behind a pay wall. Below is a summary and the abstract.


  • Serum-persistent IL-2 and anti-tumor IgG induces strong control of tumor growth
  • Immune response includes a cytokine storm with high levels of MIP-2, IFNγ, and IL-6
  • Neutrophils drive efficacy, and infiltration is mediated by NK cells and macrophages
  • Adoptive transfer of CD8+ T cells, Fc/IL-2, and antibody confers long-term efficacy


Cancer immunotherapies under development have generally focused on either stimulating T cell immunity or driving antibody-directed effector functions of the innate immune system such as antibody-dependent cell-mediated cytotoxicity (ADCC). We find that a combination of an anti-tumor antigen antibody and an untargeted IL-2 fusion protein with delayed systemic clearance induces significant tumor control in aggressive isogenic tumor models via a concerted innate and adaptive response involving neutrophils, NK cells, macrophages, and CD8+ T cells. This combination therapy induces an intratumoral “cytokine storm” and extensive lymphocyte infiltration. Adoptive transfer of anti-tumor T cells together with this combination therapy leads to robust cures of established tumors and development of immunological memory.

Additional information can be found at “New Approach Halts the Growth of a Very Aggressive Form of Melanoma“.

Enlisting the immune system

Antibody drugs for cancer, which include rituximab and Herceptin, are believed to work by binding to cancer proteins and blocking the signals that tell cancer cells to divide uncontrollably. They may also draw the attention of cells belonging to the innate immune system, such as natural killer cells, which can destroy tumor cells.

Adoptive T cell therapy, on the other hand, enlists the body’s T cells to attack tumors. Billions of T cells flow through the average person’s bloodstream at any given time, each specialized to recognize different molecules. However, many tumor proteins do not provoke T cells to attack, so T cells must be removed from the patient and programmed to attack a specific tumor molecule.

Wittrup and his colleagues made the discovery that they could generate both types of immune responses while they were experimenting with improving antibody drug performance with a signaling molecule called IL-2, which helps boost immune responses.

Scientists have tried this strategy before, and about a dozen such therapies have gone through phase I clinical trials. However, most of these efforts failed, even though the antibody-IL-2 combination usually works very well against cancer cells grown in a lab dish.

The MIT team realized that this failure might be caused by the timing of IL-2 delivery. When delivered to cells in a dish, IL-2 sticks around for a long time, amplifying the response of natural killer cells against cancer cells. However, when IL-2 is injected into a patient’s bloodstream, the kidneys filter it out within an hour.

Wittrup and his colleagues overcame this by fusing IL-2 to part of an antibody molecule, which allows it to circulate in the bloodstream for much longer. In tests in mice with a very aggressive form of melanoma, the researchers found they could stop tumor growth by delivering this engineered form of IL-2, along with antibody drugs, once a week.

Immune synergy

To their surprise, the researchers found that T cells were the most important component of the anti-tumor response induced by the antibody-IL-2 combination. They believe that the synergy of IL-2-induced cells and cytokines, and the antibody treatment, creates an environment that lets T cells attack more effectively.

“The antibody-driven innate response creates an environment such that when the T cells come in, they can kill the tumor. In its absence, the tumor cells establish an environment where the T cells don’t work very well,” Wittrup says.

Cells called neutrophils, which are considered the immune system’s “first line of defense” because they react strongly to foreign invaders that enter the skin through a cut or other injury, were also surprisingly important.

“They’re a really powerful force in your immune system, but people in immunotherapy don’t usually focus on neutrophils. They don’t really consider them as a viable tool,” Zhu says. “It pointed us to the idea that although T cells and natural killer cells are important, maybe we’re forgetting about a part of the immune system that is also really important and could help us achieve our goals of ultimately curing the tumors.”

The researchers also found that when they delivered an antibody, IL-2, and T cells targeted to the tumor, the adoptively transferred T cells killed cancer cells much more successfully than when only T cells were delivered. In 80 to 90 percent of the mice, tumors disappeared completely; even when tumor cells were reinjected into the mice months after the original treatment, their immune systems destroyed the cells, preventing new tumors from forming.

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