Serial stimulation of invariant natural killer T cells with covalently stabilized bispecific T cell engagers generates anti-tumor immunity while avoiding anergy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Shalu Sharma Kharkwal
  • Christopher T Johndrow
  • Himanshu Kharkwal
  • Noemi A Saavedra-Avila
  • Leandro J Carreño
  • Samantha Rothberg
  • Jinghang Zhang
  • Scott J Garforth
  • Peter J Jervis
  • Lianjun Zhang
  • Alena Donda
  • Amareeta K Besra
  • Steven C Almo
  • Alan Howell
  • Elizabeth E Evans
  • Maurice Zauderer
  • Steven A Porcelli

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Albert Einstein College of Medicine
  • Universidad de Chile
  • University of Minho
  • Peking Union Medical College
  • University of Lausanne
  • University of Birmingham
  • Vaccinex Inc


CD1d-restricted invariant natural killer T cells (iNKT cells) mediate strong anti-tumor immunity when stimulated by glycolipid agonists. However, attempts to develop effective iNKT cell agonists for clinical applications have been thwarted by potential problems with dose-limiting toxicity and by activation-induced iNKT cell anergy, which limits the efficacy of repeated administration. To overcome these issues, we developed a unique bispecific T cell engager (BiTE) based on covalent conjugates of soluble CD1d with photoreactive analogs of the glycolipid α-galactosylceramide. Here we characterize the in vivo activities of iNKT cell-specific BiTEs and assess their efficacy for cancer immunotherapy in mouse models using transplantable colorectal cancer or melanoma tumor lines engineered to express human Her2 as a tumor-associated antigen. Systemic administration of conjugated BiTEs stimulated multiple iNKT cell effector functions including cytokine release, secondary activation of NK cells, and induction of dendritic cell maturation and also initiated epitope spreading for tumor-specific CD8+ cytolytic T cell responses. The anti-tumor effects of iNKT cell activation with conjugated BiTEs were further enhanced by simultaneous checkpoint blockade with antibodies to CTLA-4, providing a potential approach for combination immunotherapy. Multiple injections of covalently stabilized iNKT cell-specific BiTEs activated iNKT cells without causing iNKT anergy and exhaustion, thus enabling repeated administration for effective and nontoxic cancer immunotherapy regimens.


Original languageEnglish
JournalCancer Research
Early online date22 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 22 Jan 2021