How Genetically Engineered CAR-T Cells Fight Cancer

In an effort to fight cancer effectively, researchers have put their all into developing even more successful CAR-T therapy approaches. The newest approach comes from the research team at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Through their research, they’ve created chimeric antigen receptor CAR-T cells designed to outsmart cancer’s evasive maneuvers. While their research must still go through the clinical trials stage, it shows great promise in pushing cancer treatments to the next level.

What is CAR-T Therapy?

CAR-T therapy is an immunotherapy treatment designed to precisely target and kill cancer cells. This type of cancer treatment is customized to the exact needs of each patient to maximize its effectiveness.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved six CAR-T therapy types since 2017. The approved treatments target blood cancers, like leukemia, lymphoma, and multiple myeloma, in particular.

For all the approved treatments, the process starts with the removal of white blood cells, called T cells, from the patient. Then, the cells get transformed into CAR-T cells in the lab through the insertion of a specialized gene.

The modified cells grow for up to three weeks, and then get infused back into the patient’s bloodstream. Soon after that, the CAR-T cells get to work in targeting and killing off the cancer cells.

Why Researchers Genetically Engineer CAR-T Cells

As the CAR-T cells work their magic, they only attack the cancer cells with the exact targeted gene marker. In their fight to survive, the cancer cells quickly grow wise to the targeted marker, and then eliminate it from their makeup.

Once that happens, the CAR-T cells stop working as intended, putting the patient back at square one. Since CAR-T therapy can cost as much as $450,000, it’s often too costly to keep repeating the treatment until all the cancer cells are eliminated.

Even with all the right markers in place, CAR-T cells cannot effectively fight against cancer cells in dense solid tumors. They are only truly efficient in targeting blood cancer cells, which are much easier to reach. For these reasons, the current CAR-T therapy approach has limited value to many cancer patients.

Fortunately, researchers have been working hard to overcome these limitations and make CAR-T therapy much more effective overall. Their new approach turns the CAR-T cells into a micro pharmacy capable of swarming cancer cells with toxic drugs. Dubbed SEAKER cells, these highly advanced cells have the potential to revolutionize the CAR-T therapy world.

How SEAKER Cells Work to Fight Cancer

The SEAKER cells overcome both major problems with CAR-T cells: the easily suppressed static markers and inability to target cells in solid tumors. Known as Synthetic Enzyme-Armed KillER cells, the SEAKERs combine traditional immunotherapy targeting with anticancer drug generation at the source.

By taking this two-pronged approach, these cells send the toxic anti-cancer drugs into the targeted cells. Then, they go one step further by killing off nearby cancer cells without the markers. The engineered cells continue to produce the cancer drugs after exhausting their resources, allowing them to evade suppression altogether.

Through this process, the engineered CAR-T cells basically level up the immune system by allowing it to activate a small molecule cancer drug – a feat that’s never before been possible. The modified T-cells carry an enzyme that cuts the masking off the cancer drug, allowing it to sneak up on the cells, and then launch an all-out attack.

With this new therapy, the CAR-T cells produce an enzyme that lies in wait for the inactive cancer drug to pass by as it circulates through the bloodstream. Then, the enzyme cuts away the masking, activating the drug right in time for it to hit the targeted cancer cells and their nearby counterparts.

New CAR-T Therapy Trials on the Way

The initial genetically engineered CAR-T therapy treatment has only been tested in mouse models and in vitro cancer cells. Since these tests indicated that the SEAKER cells work better than other CAR-T therapy approaches, the next step is to test them in human trials.

CoImmune may end up kickstarting the trials, as they’ve already licensed the technology needed to create the cells. Additional companies may come onboard as interest increases, however, potentially speeding up the time to getting this new approach tested and FDA approved.

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