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By Karine Dubé, David Palm and Jeff Taylor


Carl H. June, MD delivered the keynote speech at a University of Washington conference on engineered T cells for cancer and HIV. Dr. June is the Richard W. Vague Professor in Immunotherapy in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, Director of the Center for Cellular Immunotherapies and Director of Translational Research in the Abramson Cancer Center, and Director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, at the University of Pennsylvania. The annual Cell and Gene Therapy meeting, organized by the defeatHIV collaboratory brings attention to the evolving progress in HIV cell and gene therapies and enables partnerships in the field.


Dr. June provided an overview of the status of immunotherapy and synthetic biology with engineered T cell therapy. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells are personalized serial killer cells, taking advantage of the cytotoxic potential of T cells to kill tumor cells in an antigen-dependent manner. Emma Whitehead was the first CAR patient to receive this treatment for leukemia. In 2012, she received an autologous CAR T cell regimen and then recovered from leukemia.  Recently the FDA recommended CAR treatment for the treatment of leukemia.


In adults, CAR T cells had a 93% response rate (57/60 study participants). CAR T cells are also evolving with increased sophistication for both the cancer and HIV cure fields, and approaches are being investigated in the hope of achieving long-term HIV remission.


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