Escalate Life Sciences
‘In vivo’ cell therapy: expanding beyond CAR-T
At least five startups have emerged with new ways to genetically modify immune cells within the body, an approach that, if successful, could widen the field of CAR-T treatment.
The treatment June was working on, now sold as Kymriah, became the first CAR-T cancer therapy to reach market, establishing cell therapy as a new class of medicines. Other, similar treatments have followed since and are used to treat leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma. When they work, they can produce durable remissions.
Yet, despite a decade of rapid progress since June’s 2011 study, CAR-T therapy’s reach remains limited. It hasn’t been used effectively for non-malignant diseases and, even in oncology, its success is confined to blood cancers.
Many companies are working to overcome CAR-T’s shortcomings and broaden its potential applications. One strategy involves turning CAR-T from a complex process performed outside the body into a simpler infusion. This inside-the-body, or “in vivo,” approach could make cell therapy more accessible. It also may open up other conditions for CAR-T treatment.
At least five startups have formed in recent years to develop in vivo cell therapy. June co-founded one of them, Capstan Therapeutics, and the rest have drawn interest from top-tier investors or large pharmaceutical companies. Here’s where things stand:
What is in vivo cell therapy and how does it work?
Constructing a CAR-T therapy is delicate, laborious work. Doctors must first draw out a patient’s white blood cells, which are then frozen and shipped to a laboratory. There, scientists alter T cells by adding a gene for a new receptor — called a chimeric antigen receptor, or CAR — that helps them grab proteins on the surface of cancerous cells. These souped-up T cells are multiplied many times over, frozen and — about two to three weeks after the whole process began — reinfused back into the patient.
Published on Oct. 18, 2022 Ben Fidler,Senior Editor