Modified CAR-T Cancer Therapy is Safer and More Accessible

For as long as there has been cancer treatment there has always been dramatic risks; and the same is true for CAR-T cancer therapy.  A new approach, however, shows great promise for offering incredible benefits with much lower patient risk. 

In a recent, small, clinical trial, cancer patients who were treated with a slightly modified version of existing—approved—CAR-T showed improvements in line with previous studies but without the previously associated side effects.  These side effects are notorious for not only resulting in necessary hospitalizations but also for requiring additional—and often expensive—treatments. 

If you are not aware, CAR-T therapies cater treatment to the patient according to their own immunity. Immune cells are extracted from the patient and then genetically engineered to recruit the body’s natural immune system to target cancerous cells.  Of course, teaching the body to go on the offensive, in a way, is where the danger lies. 

And that is also where the new research intervened.  Using the Kymriah blood cancer drug, from Novartis, researchers altered the amino acid sequence in order to alter the CAR-T treatment, in hopes it would not result in the aforementioned side effects.  Sure enough, in lab mice tests, they managed to kill cancer cells without triggering inflammation in the brain or feverish immune response (which are the two most common of these dramatic side effects).

More importantly, these results held up in human testing. 

“That, to us, was a very big surprise,” explains lead study author Dr. Si-Yi Chen. The University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology professor of immunology goes on to say, “This is a major improvement. We’ve made a new CAR molecule that’s just as efficient at killing cancer cells, but it works more slowly and with less toxicity.”

Dr. Chen also comments that the improved CAR-T cells proliferated and differentiated into memory cells.  This produced a more potent and longer-lasting anti-tumor effect in those patients without the usual toxicities. Chen notes, “Toxicities are currently the biggest barrier to the use of CAR T-cell therapy. My hope is that this safer version of CAR T cell therapy could someday be administered to patients in outpatient settings.”

The results of this study have been published in the April 22 issue of Nature Medicine.