The race to supercharge cancer-fighting T cells

Heidi Ledford in Nature:

Crystal Mackall remembers her scepticism the first time she heard a talk about a way to engineer T cells to recognize and kill cancer. Sitting in the audience at a 1996 meeting in Germany, the paediatric oncologist turned to the person next to her and said: “No way. That’s too crazy.”

Today, things are different. “I’ve been humbled,” says Mackall, who now works at Stanford University in California developing such cells to treat brain tumours. The US Food and Drug Administration approved the first modified T cells, called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cells, to treat a form of leukaemia in 2017. The treatments have become game changers for several cancers. Five similar products have been approved, and more than 20,000 people have received them. A field once driven by a handful of dogged researchers now boasts hundreds of laboratory groups in academia and industry. More than 500 clinical trials are under way, and other approaches are gearing up to jump from lab to clinic as researchers race to refine T-cell designs and extend their capabilities. “This field is going to go way beyond cancer in the years to come,” Mackall predicts.

More here.