News ID: 259034
Published: 1118 GMT September 21, 2019

CAR T cell therapy: On the cusp of 'an immunotherapy revolution'?

CAR T cell therapy: On the cusp of 'an immunotherapy revolution'?
Cancer cell during cell division (NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH)

A deeper understanding of the immune system's role in controlling cancer has helped drive "an immunotherapy revolution," offering hope for many patients with previously incurable cancers, including children, doctors have concluded in a new report.

According to, the assessment, from two Stanford University doctors, is part of their broader analysis on lessons learned from "the first leg of the CAR T cell journey."

CAR T cell therapy is a type of cancer treatment for cancers of the blood. The single-infusion treatment relies on a patient's own immune system cells to battle cancer.

Initial laboratory tests in the early 2000s, followed by hundreds of clinical trials, proved that recruiting key cellular soldiers from the immune system can fight cancer in a highly personalized way. CAR T, which involves supercharging T cells, is just one in a growing number of cancer immunotherapies that have shown how constituents of the immune system can be exploited beneficially.

Drs. Robbie Majzner and Crystal Macknall of Stanford University Medical Center assessed CAR T cell therapy based on clinical data that has been amassed to date.

Two CAR T cell drugs have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Kymriah (tisaglenlecleucel), a Novartis product, was given a green light in August, 2017, followed by Yescarta (axicabtagene ciloleucel) in October of the same year. Yescarta was developed by Kite Pharmaceuticals in California, a division of Gilead Sciences, Inc.

Kymriah was designed to treat B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (B-ALL) in people 25 years old or younger whose malignancies have not responded to previous therapy. Yescata is aimed at adults with B-cell cancers that didn't respond to conventional treatment.

Hyperbole has accompanied the emergence of CAR T cell therapy, which has been hailed a "miracle" cancer treatment in some news stories because of the dramatic anecdotes this form of treatment has on some patients, especially children.

However, CAR T cell therapy, like any form of cancer treatment, is extraordinarily complex, as Majzner and Mackall underscored in their analysis, which was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Some patients have a robust response to the infused therapy; others suffer relapses. Some forms of cancer, particularly solid tumors, do not respond as well to CAR T therapy as do cancers of the blood, but current drawbacks associated with CAR T cell therapy may not persist into the future, Majzner and Mackall contended.

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