Head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) ranks sixth in cancer incidence worldwide and has a 5-year survival rate of only 63%. Immunotherapies—principally immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI), such as anti-PD-1 and anti-CTLA-4 antibodies that restore endogenous antitumor T-cell immunity—offer the greatest promise for HNSCC treatment. Anti-PD-1 has been recently approved for first-line treatment of recurrent and metastatic HNSCC; however, less than 20% of patients show clinical benefit and durable responses. In addition, the clinical application of ICI has been limited by immune-related adverse events (irAE) consequent to compromised peripheral immune tolerance. Although irAEs are often reversible, they can become severe, prompting premature therapy termination or becoming life threatening. To address the irAEs inherent to systemic ICI therapy, we developed a novel, local delivery strategy based upon an array of soluble microneedles (MN). Using our recently reported syngeneic, tobacco-signature murine HNSCC model, we found that both systemic and local-MN anti-CTLA-4 therapy lead to >90% tumor response, which is dependent on CD8 T cells and conventional dendritic cell type 1 (cDC1). However, local-MN delivery limited the distribution of anti-CTLA-4 antibody from areas distal to draining lymphatic basins. Employing Foxp3-GFPDTR transgenic mice to interrogate irAEs in vivo, we found that local-MN delivery of anti-CTLA-4 protects animals from irAEs observed with systemic therapy. Taken together, our findings support the exploration of MN-intratumoral ICI delivery as a viable strategy for HNSCC treatment with reduced irAEs, and the opportunity to target cDC1s as part of multimodal treatment options to boost ICI therapy.

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