A new route for CARs

Adapting CAR T technology to treat autoimmune diseases

By retooling chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell technology to kill autoimmune cells rather than tumor cells, a University of Pennsylvania team is creating therapies for autoimmune diseases to be as effective as those for cancer, with fewer liabilities.

UPenn has a long history with CAR T cells, as the home of some of the technology's pioneers, who invented the CAR T therapy CTL019 licensed to Novartis AG under a 2012 global research and licensing agreement. The university and Novartis have the therapy in Phase II trials for several blood cancers.

The approach - now standard in CAR T cell therapy - uses cytotoxic T cells to attack tumors by engineering the cells to be activated by cancer-specific antigens.

Now, a UPenn group working outside the cancer field has adapted the approach for autoimmunity,

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