Investigators developed chimeric antigen receptors (CARs) for expression on T cells more than 25 years ago. When the CAR is derived from an antibody, the resultant cell should combine the desirable targeting features of an antibody (e.g. lack of requirement for major histocompatibility complex recognition, ability to recognize non-protein antigens) with the persistence, trafficking, and effector functions of a T cell. This article describes how the past two decades have seen a crescendo of research which has now begun to translate these potential benefits into effective treatments for patients with cancer. We describe the basic design of CARs, describe how antigenic targets are selected, and the initial clinical experience with CAR-T cells. Our review then describes our own and other investigators' work aimed at improving the function of CARs and reviews the clinical studies in hematological and solid malignancies that are beginning to exploit these approaches. Finally, we show the value of adding additional engineering features to CAR-T cells, irrespective of their target, to render them better suited to function in the tumor environment, and discuss how the safety of these heavily modified cells may be maintained.
Keywords: CAR; T cells; cancer; gene therapy; immunotherapy.
© 2013 John Wiley & Sons A/S. Published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.