From structural design to delivery: mRNA therapeutics for cancer immunotherapy

Systemic or topical mRNA delivery for immune function modulation is emerging as a promising option for cancer immunotherapy. In this review, strategies for enhancing mRNA-based cancer immunotherapy from the perspective of mRNA structure design and delivery systems are first summarized. Advances of delivering mRNA into specific organs or cells for cancer treatment and opportunities in clinical translation are discussed.


mRNA therapeutics have emerged as powerful tools for cancer immunotherapy in accordance with their superiority in expressing all sequence-known proteins in vivo. In particular, with a small dosage of delivered mRNA, antigen-presenting cells (APCs) can synthesize mutant neo-antigens and multi-antigens and present epitopes to T lymphocytes to elicit antitumor effects. In addition, expressing receptors like chimeric antigen receptor (CAR), T-cell receptor (TCR), CD134, and immune-modulating factors including cytokines, interferons, and antibodies in specific cells can enhance immunological response against tumors. With the maturation of in vitro transcription (IVT) technology, large-scale and pure mRNA encoding specific proteins can be synthesized quickly. However, the clinical translation of mRNA-based anticancer strategies is restricted by delivering mRNA into target organs or cells and the inadequate endosomal escape efficiency of mRNA. Recently, there have been some advances in mRNA-based cancer immunotherapy, which can be roughly classified as modifications of the mRNA structure and the development of delivery systems, especially the lipid nanoparticle platforms. In this review, the latest strategies for overcoming the limitations of mRNA-based cancer immunotherapies and the recent advances in delivering mRNA into specific organs and cells are summarized. Challenges and opportunities for clinical applications of mRNA-based cancer immunotherapy are also discussed.

Author list:

Feng Zhou†, Lujia Huang†, Shiqin Li, Wenfang Yang, Fangmin Chen, Zhixiong Cai, Xiaolong Liu, Wujun Xu, Vesa-Pekka Lehto, Ulrich Lächelt, Rongqin Huang, Yang Shi, Twan Lammers, Wei Tao, Zhi Ping Xu, Ernst Wagner, Zhiai Xu*, Haijun Yu*

How to cite:

F. Zhou, L. Huang, S. Li, W. Yang, F. Chen, Z. Cai, X. Liu, W. Xu, V.-P. Lehto, U. Lächelt, R. Huang, Y. Shi, T. Lammers, W. Tao, Z. P. Xu, E. Wagner, Z. Xu, H. Yu, Exploration 2023, 4, 20210146.