Adoptive transfer of receptor-engineered T cells has produced impressive results in treating patients with B cell leukemias and lymphomas. This success has captured public imagination and driven academic and industrial researchers to develop similar 'off-the-shelf' receptors targeting shared antigens on epithelial cancers, the leading cause of cancer-related deaths. However, the successful treatment of large numbers of people with solid cancers using this strategy is unlikely to be straightforward. Receptor-engineered T cells have the potential to cause lethal toxicity from on-target recognition of normal tissues, and there is a paucity of truly tumor-specific antigens shared across tumor types. Here we offer our perspective on how expanding the use of genetically redirected T cells to treat the majority of patients with solid cancers will require major technical, manufacturing and regulatory innovations centered around the development of autologous gene therapies targeting private somatic mutations.