Adoptive T cell therapies have produced exceptional responses in a subset of patients with cancer. However, therapeutic efficacy can be hindered by poor T cell persistence and function1. In human T cell cancers, evolution of the disease positively selects for mutations that improve fitness of T cells in challenging situations analogous to those faced by therapeutic T cells. Therefore, we reasoned that these mutations could be co-opted to improve T cell therapies. Here we systematically screened the effects of 71 mutations from T cell neoplasms on T cell signalling, cytokine production and in vivo persistence in tumours. We identify a gene fusion, CARD11-PIK3R3, found in a CD4+ cutaneous T cell lymphoma2, that augments CARD11-BCL10-MALT1 complex signalling and anti-tumour efficacy of therapeutic T cells in several immunotherapy-refractory models in an antigen-dependent manner. Underscoring its potential to be deployed safely, CARD11-PIK3R3-expressing cells were followed up to 418 days after T cell transfer in vivo without evidence of malignant transformation. Collectively, our results indicate that exploiting naturally occurring mutations represents a promising approach to explore the extremes of T cell biology and discover how solutions derived from evolution of malignant T cells can improve a broad range of T cell therapies.
© 2024. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.