At the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne’s (EPFL's) School of Engineering, professor Li Tang's Laboratory of Biomaterials for Immunoengineering has made significant strides in cancer treatment research. In ongoing clinical trials, 11 patients seemed to achieve complete remission using an innovative CAR T-cell therapy, marking a 100 percent success rate to date. Evidence from the lab study, published in Nature Biotechnology, suggests the therapy's long-term effectiveness and indicates that its fabrication may be both quicker and more cost-effective than current methods.
What is unique about this CAR T-cell therapy?
CAR-T therapy involves modifying T cells to target and eliminate specific cancer cells. These modified T cells are equipped with chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) that allow them to recognize and latch onto cancer cells, marking a significant departure from traditional treatments. Tang's groundbreaking research adds another dimension to this innovative approach. “We’ve added another layer to the CAR T-cell therapy by bioengineering a more robust, supercharged immune cell that is particularly efficient at targeting and destroying tumor cells,” says Tang.
Traditional CAR T-cells, while effective against liquid cancers, face challenges in solid tumors—the cells wear themselves out and ultimately fail to fully destroy the cancer. Tang's research introduces CAR T-cells that excrete the IL-10 molecule, which is then ingested by the modified T cells. In other words, the cell has been engineered to produce its own medicine to keep healthy in the tumor’s hostile environment.
Surprisingly, the IL-10 molecule was traditionally viewed as an immunosuppressant. But instead of inhibiting the immune response, Tang and his team have leveraged its unique metabolic reinforcement capabilities. This innovative twist bolsters the metabolism of the CAR-T cells. These metabolically armored treatments work immediately on existing tumors and have been shown to prevent future tumors from coming back.
Cost-effectiveness and efficacy
Even after the reintroduction of tumor cells into the mouse models, the cells failed to establish themselves or show any malignancy. This underscores the lasting efficacy of the treatment, where the immune response remains vigilant and effectively neutralizes any renewed cancer threats. “The results in my lab are extremely exciting. We are convinced that this technology has the potential to save lives—as it has done so far with the 12 patients involved in our trial,” says Tang.
While current CAR T-cell therapy has proven effective and several treatment options are currently available for leukemia and other liquid cancers, it remains extremely expensive: The cost of one treatment is upwards of $500k. In contrast, the costs of this future treatment could be significantly lowered because only five percent of the traditional dose is necessary for full recovery.
Much of the costs come from the fabrication of relatively large amounts of these modified T cells in expensive laboratory environments. “A small amount of blood from a patient could provide already enough cells to prepare CAR T-cell therapy with our technology. The next day you can already inject them back to the patient. It will be substantially less expensive and much faster to produce, saving more lives in the end,” concludes Tang.
- This press release was originally published on the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne website