Making CAR-T therapy available to more people

Lead researcher - Professor Waseem Qasim, University College London
Gene edited anti-T chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cells
Amount awarded: £209,081
Award start date: 01 Oct 2018
Award duration: 3 years (36 months)

In September 2018, the NHS announced that it would make CAR-T therapy available to children and young adults with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) who have run out of treatment options. CAR-T is a very exciting therapy because it has the potential to offer long-term survival – possibly a cure – for people who only have a few months to live. However, CAR-T therapy will only work for some types of blood cancer, and it is very expensive because it has to be tailored to the individual.

CAR-T therapy works by taking a type of white blood cell called a T-cell from the person with cancer, and reprogramming them in the lab, so they are better at finding and killing cancer cells. These modified T-cells are now called ‘CAR-T cells’, which are then given back to the patient where they hunt down and kill the cancer cells. However, this type of therapy is not effective against cancers that affect T-cells, because if the CAR-T cells are armed against other T-cells, they will turn on each other.

Professor Qasim wants use the latest technology to ‘edit' the DNA carried by T-cells, which should prevent the CAR-T cells from fighting each other but still allow them to attack cancerous T-cells. This work could mean that CAR-T therapy becomes available to people with blood cancers that affect T-cells. These CAR-T cells will also be ‘universal’, meaning that the treatment can be given to many different people, rather than having to tailor it for each person.

If successful, this research could lead to a new treatment for blood cancers that arise from T-cells. And because it will be universal, it could also make CAR-T therapy much cheaper to produce than it currently is, meaning that CAR-T could become much more widely available.