Extending the success of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells to T-cell malignancies is problematic because most target antigens are shared between normal and malignant cells, leading to CAR T-cell fratricide. CD7 is a transmembrane protein highly expressed in acute T-cell leukemia (T-ALL) and in a subset of peripheral T-cell lymphomas. Normal expression of CD7 is largely confined to T cells and natural killer (NK) cells, reducing the risk of off-target-organ toxicity. Here, we show that the expression of a CD7-specific CAR impaired expansion of transduced T cells because of residual CD7 expression and the ensuing fratricide. We demonstrate that targeted genomic disruption of the CD7 gene prevented this fratricide and enabled expansion of CD7 CAR T cells without compromising their cytotoxic function. CD7 CAR T cells produced robust cytotoxicity against malignant T-cell lines and primary tumors and were protective in a mouse xenograft model of T-ALL. Although CD7 CAR T cells were also toxic against unedited (CD7+) T and NK lymphocytes, we show that the CD7-edited T cells themselves can respond to viral peptides and therefore could be protective against pathogens. Hence, genomic disruption of a target antigen overcomes fratricide of CAR T cells and establishes the feasibility of using CD7 CAR T cells for the targeted therapy of T-cell malignancies.
© 2017 by The American Society of Hematology.