Cancer, CAR-T & CRISPR

Hopes are high for an experimental immunotherapy recently described in Nature, possibly the most complex treatment ever developed and tested on humans. The results of the small trial carried out by the California-based PACT Pharma look promising, even if the success is more technical and conceptual than clinical.

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A promising alternative to CAR-T cells

Engineering lymphocytes to recognize cancer cells is a strategy that has already produced convincing clinical results thanks to CAR-T therapy. But this is not the only approach on the horizon. An emerging alternative is TCR-engineered lymphocytes, where TCR stands for T-cell receptors.

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CAR-T and the C-word

Early trial participant Doug Olson celebrating his 75th birthday with family (photo credit Penn Medicine)

Doug Olson was treated with engineered T cells (CAR-T) for incurable leukemia in 2010, well before CRISPR was born. Over a decade later, he still is cancer-free (see the paper in Nature), and the pioneer of the approach, Carl June, is reported to have said the C-word: cured. As immunotherapy and genome editing are crossing paths, hopefully, we expect further good news from the CAR-T frontier in the future.

CRISPR in the news

CAR-T cell therapy meets CRISPR. See the results from the first US trial of gene editing in patients with advanced cancer, just published by Carl June and colleagues in Science, together with a perspective by Jennifer Hamilton and Jennifer Doudna and a piece of news by Jennifer Couzin-Frankel. We still don’t know if edited T cells are effective against cancer, but this Phase 1 clinical trial suggests the approach is safe and feasible.
RNA editing takes off. Take a look at the news feature by Sara Reardon in Nature. It’s a four pages introduction to ADAR, an alternative to CRISPR for flexible, reversible therapies.