Cancer breakthrough as scientists 'supercharge' an immune cell


A type of ‘supercharged’ immune cell could be mass-produced to fight cancer in cutting-edge immunotherapy treatments, scientists believe.

Imperial College London researchers claim the breakthrough could mark the next generation of CAR-T therapies – backed by the NHS.

The pioneering treatments, which involve reprogramming vital immune cells to kill cancer, costs around £300,000 per patient because they are tailor-made. 

But the discovery could enable one batch of immune cells to be used on multiple patients – slashing the cost of the therapy to around £30,000.

Scientists led by Professor Anastasios Karadimitris created a genetically engineered version of a natural killer T-cell, called CAR19-iNKT.

Imperial College London researchers claim the breakthrough could mark the next generation of CAR-T therapies ¿ backed by the NHS

Imperial College London researchers claim the breakthrough could mark the next generation of CAR-T therapies ¿ backed by the NHS

Imperial College London researchers claim the breakthrough could mark the next generation of CAR-T therapies – backed by the NHS

In tests on mice, the immune cells eliminated all cancer cells in 60 per cent of mice. Around 90 per cent of the rodents survived long-term.

The researchers behind the study, published in the journal Cancer Cell, are now considering human trials of CAR19-iNKT.

Professor Karadimitris said the findings suggest the immune cell ‘painstakingly engineered’ to be ‘supercharged’ holds promise as a new cancer treatment. 

CAR-T therapy has been called ‘one of the most promising new treatments in a generation for lymphoma and leukaemia’.

It is personalised and involves removing a type of immune cell from a patient’s blood and reprogramming it in a laboratory to target cancers.

This new, altered cell is then multiplied in the lab, and an army of these cancer-fighting cells are placed back into the patient.

Trials have shown up to half of patients are in remission after taking the treatment, having previously had just months to live.

But it does not work for everyone and some patients on medical trials have suffered fatal side effects, including the accumulation of water on the brain.

NHS England announced last week it would be making the first ever CAR therapy licensed for the treatment of lymphoma available to patients.

Professor Karadimitris said: ‘Cancer researchers and doctors are very excited about this therapy.

‘It means that instead of talking to patients about a hospice, we can offer them a treatment that has a good chance of working.’

At the moment scientists use a type of immune cell called a T-cell – which are important immune cells – to create CAR-T treatments.

WHAT IS CAR-T THERAPY? 

CAR-T therapy has been called ‘one of the most promising new treatments in a generation for lymphoma and leukaemia’.

It is personalised and involves removing a type of immune cell from a patient’s blood and reprogramming it in a laboratory to target cancers.

This new, altered cell is then multiplied in the lab, and an army of these cancer-fighting cells are placed back into the patient.

Trials have shown up to half of patients are in remission after taking the treatment, having previously had just months to live.

But it does not work for everyone and some patients on medical trials have suffered fatal side effects, including the accumulation of water on the brain.

At the moment scientists use a type of immune cell called a T-cell – which are important immune cells – to create CAR-T treatments.

However, in the new study, the researchers used a slightly different type of immune cell called iNKT – which don’t need to be matched to the patient.

Although these cells are much rarer in the body, the researchers found that CAR19-iNKT were more effective than CAR-T at eliminating cancer cells.

Around 90 per cent of mice with lymphoma treated with CAR19-iNKT survived long-term – compared to 60 per cent of mice with CAR-T cells.

The researchers were surprised to see the genetically engineered cells could travel to the brain, and also tackle large tumours.

The scientists said this raises the possibility the technology could one day be used for brain tumours, as well as other cancers such as prostate and ovarian.

Dr Alasdair Rankin, director of research at the blood cancer research charity Bloodwise, which funded the study, welcomed the findings.

He said: ‘Current CAR-T therapies being approved for use on the NHS are effective for a significant amount of patients.

‘But not everyone responds to these treatments and they are extremely expensive to make.

‘This very promising research is in the early stages, but it paints an exciting picture of what the future of this treatment could look like.

‘The possibility of cheaply mass-producing highly effective anti-cancer immune cells is in many ways the holy grail of CAR therapy.’

Dr Rankin added: ‘If successful, it would open up these life-saving treatments to many more patients.’

The researchers added they can’t predict potential side effects of CAR19-iNKT in humans and that it must be investigated further.’



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