Engineering immune cells to target cancer is a rapidly advancing technology. The first commercial products, chimeric-antigen receptor (CAR) T cells, are now approved for hematologic malignancies. However, solid tumors pose a greater challenge for cellular therapy, in part because suitable cancer-specific antigens are more difficult to identify and surrounding healthy tissues are harder to avoid. In addition, impaired trafficking of immune cells to solid tumors, the harsh immune-inhibitory microenvironment, and variable antigen density and presentation help tumors evade immune cells targeting cancer-specific antigens. To overcome these obstacles, T cells are being engineered to express defined T-cell receptors (TCR). Given that TCRs target intracellular peptides expressed on tumor MHC molecules, this provides an expanded pool of potential targetable tumor-specific antigens relative to the cell-surface antigens that are targeted by CAR T cells. The affinity of TCR T cells can be tuned to allow for better tumor recognition, even with varying levels of antigen presentation on the tumor and surrounding healthy tissue. Further enhancements to TCR T cells include improved platforms that enable more robust cell expansion and persistence; coadministration of small molecules that enhance tumor recognition and immune activation; and coexpression of cytokine-producing moieties, activating coreceptors, or mediators that relieve checkpoint blockade. Early-phase clinical trials pose logistical challenges involving production, large-scale manufacturing, and more. The challenges and obstacles to successful TCR T-cell therapy, and ways to overcome these and improve anticancer activity and efficacy, are discussed herein.

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