Adoptive cell transfer (ACT) with autologous tumor-reactive T cells is a promising strategy in cancer immunotherapy, but treatment of solid tumors is limited by the rapid decline in function of the transplanted T cells. In order to maintain high numbers of viable antigen-specific cytotoxic T cells in tumors, co-administration of supporting immunostimulant agents together with transferred cells is often necessary in clinical practice. However, the high systemic doses of such agents needed to enhance T cell functionality can also result in serious side effects. Here, we developed a carrier-free strategy to deliver cytokines specifically to adoptively transferred T cells for cancer immunotherapy. IL2-Fc or an IL-15 superagonist were chemically crosslinked with a disulfide linker to form protein nanogels (NGs), which were conjugated to the plasma membrane of ACT T-cells. These NGs had exceptionally high loading of cytokines (~70 wt%) and released native protein in physiological conditions in a sustained manner through breakdown of the degradable disulfide linker in response to the activated T cell surface reduction activity. Cytokine-NGs were chemically conjugated onto the plasma membrane of donor T cells, enabling continuous pseudo-autocrine release of cytokine for stimulation of transferred CD8+ T cells. Transferred pmel-1 CD8+ T cells with optimized number of NGs conjugated per cell showed enhanced expansion and long persistence in B16F10 tumor bearing mice. Quantification of transferred Thy1.1+CD8+ T cells in tumors at Day 13 showed that T cells with conjugated cytokine-NGs expanded ~80 fold more than the T cells with systemically administered free cytokine. We demonstrated that the cytokine-NG-T cell conjugation strategy could augment transferred T-cell expansion efficiently and specifically in vivo, and thus improve the therapeutic efficacy. This T cell-NG “back pack” approach provides a readily generalizable strategy to provide autocrine protein drug support to donor cells to enhance the safety and efficacy of ACT.

Citation Format: Li Tang, Yiran Zheng, Llian Mabardi, Darrell J. Irvine. Carrier-free delivery of cytokine to specifically expand adoptively transferred T cells for enhanced cancer immunotherapy. [abstract]. In: Proceedings of the CRI-CIMT-EATI-AACR Inaugural International Cancer Immunotherapy Conference: Translating Science into Survival; September 16-19, 2015; New York, NY. Philadelphia (PA): AACR; Cancer Immunol Res 2016;4(1 Suppl):Abstract nr A073.