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Scorpion venom added to CAR-T therapy increases efficacy in brain cancer, research shows

Published on 06/03/20 at 12:15pm

Chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy has gained much traction and attention in the past years for its innovative and effective approach to treatment-resistant cancers.

The technology refers to the process by which cells are extracted from the patient’s body and edited in a laboratory before being returned to the patient via infusion. These newly engineered cells are then better equipped to target the patient’s cancer.

According to findings published in Science Translational Medicine, researchers at the independent biomedical, treatment and education centre City of Hope took this cutting-edge basis for treatment and added an unusual ingredient: chlorotoxin (CLTX), an element of venom extracted from the death stalker scorpion.

The resulting compound, known as CLTX-CAR, features a 36-amino acid peptide sequence.  The researchers tested the CLTX binding to target cancer cells in samples taken from patients with glioblastoma, one of the most common brain cancers and one with very low rates of survival, against known CAR-T targets including IL13R alpha2, HER2 and EGFR. It was found to be more effective in these tumours.

“Our chlorotoxin-incorporating CAR expands the populations of solid tumours potentially targeted by CAR T cell therapy, which is particularly needed for patients with cancers that are difficult to treat such as glioblastoma,” explained Christine Brown, City of Hope’s Heritage Provider Network Professor in Immunotherapy and Deputy Director of T Cell Therapeutics Research Laboratory. “This is a completely new targeting strategy for CAR-T therapy with CARs incorporating a recognition structure different from other CARs.”

Michael Barish, City of Hope professor and Chair of the Department of Developmental and Stem Cell Biology, added: “Much like a scorpion uses toxin components of its venom to target and kill its prey, we’re using chlorotoxin to direct the T cells to target the tumour cells with the added advantage that the CLTX-CAR-T cells are mobile and actively surveilling the brain looking for appropriate targets. We are not actually injecting a toxin but exploiting CLTX’s binding properties in the design of the CAR. The idea was to develop a CAR that would target T cells to a wider variety of GBM tumour cells than the other antibody-based CARs.”

Matt Fellows

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