Clinical practice: chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells: a major breakthrough in the battle against cancer

Clin Exp Med. 2020 Nov;20(4):469-480. doi: 10.1007/s10238-020-00628-1. Epub 2020 Apr 24.


Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy has come of age, offering a potentially curative option for patients who are refractory to standard anti-cancer treatments. The success of CAR T cell therapy in the setting of acute lymphoblastic leukemia and specific types of B cell lymphoma led to rapid regulatory approvals of CD19-directed CAR T cells, first in the United States and subsequently across the globe. Despite these major milestones in the field of immuno-oncology, growing experience with CAR T cells has also highlighted the major limitations of this strategy, namely challenges associated with manufacturing a bespoke patient-specific product, intrinsic immune cell defects leading to poor CAR T cell function as well as persistence, and/or tumor cell resistance resulting from loss or modulation of the targeted antigen. In addition, both on- and off-tumor immunotoxicities and the financial burden inherent in conventional cellular biomanufacturing often hamper the success of CAR T cell-based treatment approaches. Herein, we provide an overview of the opportunities and challenges related to the first form of gene transfer therapy to gain commercial approval in the United States. Ongoing advances in the areas of genetic engineering, precision genome editing, toxicity mitigation methods and cell manufacturing will improve the efficacy and safety of CAR T cells for hematologic malignancies and expand the use of this novel class of therapeutics to reach solid tumors.

Keywords: CAR T cell; Cancer; Chimeric antigen receptor; Immunotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Genetic Engineering / methods
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive / adverse effects
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive / economics
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive / methods*
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen / genetics*


  • Receptors, Chimeric Antigen