Engineering Hematopoietic Cells for Cancer Immunotherapy: Strategies to Address Safety and Toxicity Concerns

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Advances in cancer immunotherapies utilizing engineered hematopoietic cells have recently generated significant clinical successes. Of great promise are immunotherapies based on chimeric antigen receptor-engineered T (CAR-T) cells that are targeted toward malignant cells expressing defined tumor-associated antigens. CAR-T cells harness the effector function of the adaptive arm of the immune system and redirect it against cancer cells, overcoming the major challenges of immunotherapy, such as breaking tolerance to self-antigens and beating cancer immune system-evasion mechanisms. In early clinical trials, CAR-T cell-based therapies achieved complete and durable responses in a significant proportion of patients. Despite clinical successes and given the side effect profiles of immunotherapies based on engineered cells, potential concerns with the safety and toxicity of various therapeutic modalities remain. We discuss the concerns associated with the safety and stability of the gene delivery vehicles for cell engineering and with toxicities due to off-target and on-target, off-tumor effector functions of the engineered cells. We then overview the various strategies aimed at improving the safety of and resolving toxicities associated with cell-based immunotherapies. Integrating failsafe switches based on different suicide gene therapy systems into engineered cells engenders promising strategies toward ensuring the safety of cancer immunotherapies in the clinic.

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