Big Pharma’s Specialized T Cell Treatment May Be Too Toxic for Some Patients

Using the Body to Fight Cancer
T Cell Engineering

CAR-T is a remarkable new immunotherapy for cancer treatment that has been described as “heroic medicine” for patients who have exhausted all other resources. As Big Pharma begins taking steps toward bringing CAR-T to the market, certain toxic side effects have given some investors pause.

Pros and Cons of CAR-T

Your immune system includes T cells, which are a subtype of white blood cells. CAR-T involves harvesting a patient’s T cells, engineering them to recognize cancer then returning them to the patient’s system where they are now better equipped to fight cancer cells.

So far CAR-T has had particular success against leukemia and lymphoma, with one study resulting in leukemia completely disappearing from 90 percent of the participants. The bad news is that some test subjects have developed serious side effects such as cytokine release syndrome, which can result in organ failure.

The Search for a Safer Treatment

While experts believe the dramatically positive results greatly outweigh the potentially negative ones, researchers are at work exploring ways to make CAR-T safer for cancer patients. One promising approach is standardization of T cell doses by maintaining specific proportions.

Some researchers use a so-called “suicide switch,” which is a drug that causes T cells to self-destruct in the presence of high toxicity levels. Doses of the activation drug can be adjusted so it reduces toxic effects but leaves some T cells intact.

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