Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most common cancer in children. Nowadays the survival rate is around 85%. Nevertheless, an urgent clinical need is still represented by primary refractory and relapsed patients who do not significantly benefit from standard approaches, including chemo-radiotherapy and hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT). For this reason, immunotherapy has so far represented a challenging novel treatment opportunity, including, as the most validated therapeutic options, cancer vaccines, donor-lymphocyte infusions and tumor-specific immune effector cells. More recently, unexpected positive clinical results in ALL have been achieved by application of gene-engineered chimeric antigen expressing (CAR) T cells. Several CAR designs across different trials have generated similar response rates, with Complete Response (CR) of 60-90% at 1 month and an Event-Free Survival (EFS) of 70% at 6 months. Relevant challenges anyway remain to be addressed, such as amelioration of technical, cost and feasibility aspects of cell and gene manipulation and the necessity to face the occurrence of relapse mechanisms. This review describes the state of the art of ALL immunotherapies, the novelties in terms of gene manipulation approaches and the problems emerged from early clinical studies. We describe and discuss the process of clinical translation, including the design of a cell manufacturing protocol, vector production and regulatory issues. Multiple antigen targeting and combination of CAR T cells with molecular targeted drugs have also been evaluated as latest strategies to prevail over immune-evasion.
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