Influence of injection technique, drug formulation and tumor microenvironment on intratumoral immunotherapy delivery and efficacy

Nina M. Muñoz, Malea Williams, Katherine Dixon, Crystal Dupuis, Amanda McWatters, Rony Avritscher, Soraya Zorro Manrique, Kevin McHugh, Ravi Murthy, Alda Tam, Aung Naing, Sapna P. Patel, David Leach, Jeffrey D. Hartgerink, Simon Young, Punit Prakash, Patrick Hwu, Rahul A. Sheth

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Background Intratumoral delivery of immunotherapeutics represents a compelling solution to directly address local barriers to tumor immunity. However, we have previously shown that off-target delivery is a substantial problem during intratumoral injections; this can lead to diminished drug efficacy and systemic toxicities. We have identified three variables that influence intratumoral drug delivery: injection technique, drug formulation and tumor microenvironment. The purpose of this study was to characterize the impact of modifications in each variable on intratumoral drug delivery and immunotherapy efficacy. Methods Intratumoral injections were performed in a hybrid image-guided intervention suite with ultrasound, fluoroscopy and CT scanning capabilities in both rat and mouse syngeneic tumor models. Intratumoral drug distribution was quantified by CT volumetric imaging. The influence of varying needle design and hydrogel-based drug delivery on the immune response to a stimulator of interferon genes (STING) agonist was evaluated using flow cytometry and single cell RNA sequencing. We also evaluated the influence of tumor stiffness on drug injection distribution. Results Variations in needle design, specifically with the use of a multiside hole needle, led to approximately threefold improvements in intratumoral drug deposition relative to conventional end-hole needles. Likewise, delivery of a STING agonist through a multiside hole needle led to significantly increased expression of type I interferon-associated genes and inflammatory' dendritic cell gene signatures relative to end-hole STING agonist delivery. A multidomain peptide-based hydrogel embedded with a STING agonist led to substantial improvements in intratumoral deposition; however, the hydrogel was noted to generate a strong immune response against itself within the target tumor. Evaluation of tumor stroma on intratumoral drug delivery revealed that there was a greater than twofold improvement in intratumoral distribution in soft tumors (B16 melanoma) compared with firm tumors (MC38 colorectal). Conclusions Injection technique, drug formulation and tumor stiffness play key roles in the accurate delivery of intratumoral immunotherapeutics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere001800
JournalJournal for immunotherapy of cancer
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 15 2021


  • Drug evaluation
  • Investigational
  • Preclinical
  • Therapies
  • Translational medical research
  • Tumor microenvironment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Molecular Medicine
  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology
  • Cancer Research

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