Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cells represent a major breakthrough in cancer therapy, wherein a patient's own T cells are engineered to recognize a tumor antigen, resulting in activation of a local cytotoxic immune response. However, CAR-T cell therapies are currently limited to the treatment of B cell cancers and their effectiveness is hindered by resistance from antigen-negative tumor cells, immunosuppression in the tumor microenvironment, eventual exhaustion of T cell immunologic functions and frequent severe toxicities. To overcome these problems, we have developed a novel class of CAR-T cells engineered to express an enzyme that activates a systemically administered small-molecule prodrug in situ at a tumor site. We show that these synthetic enzyme-armed killer (SEAKER) cells exhibit enhanced anticancer activity with small-molecule prodrugs, both in vitro and in vivo in mouse tumor models. This modular platform enables combined targeting of cellular and small-molecule therapies to treat cancers and potentially a variety of other diseases.
© 2021. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature America, Inc.