Chimeric antigen receptors (CAR) redirect T cells to specifically recognize and eliminate tumor cells. CAR-T therapy has achieved successful clinical outcomes, and it has been transformed into commercially available products to treat acute lymphoblastic leukemia and B cell lymphoma. These breakthroughs have motivated hundreds of CAR-T clinical trials initiated each year, with ≈900 cases registered on the ClinicalTrials website till 2021. Accumulating clinical experiences have highlighted some limitations of this strategy, e.g., relapse after complete response, poor efficacy in solid tumors, on-target off-tumor toxicities, lack of persistence, and tumor resistance. These challenges limit the therapeutic application of CAR-T cells. Multidisciplinary approaches are actively investigated to address these issues. In this review, the antigens, CAR designs, and cell sources are summarized in clinical trials from 2020 to 2021. The innovative modular and programmable designs in CAR-T cells, including advances in signaling domains, antigen-recognition domains, T cell engineering, and cell resources, are further discussed. Integrative genetic and chemical engineering strategies are promising to improve the versatility, antitumor efficacy, persistence, and safety of CAR-T cells. In the future, the next generation of CAR-T cell therapies will offer more options for patients who are refractory to standard tumor therapies.
Keywords: CAR-T; T cell engineering; clinical trials; immunotherapy.
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