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Researchers reported Wednesday that they could quickly and reliably turn CAR-T cells on and off in cancer patients, giving scientists an unprecedented level of control over this potent — but at times dangerous — oncology therapy.

The findings, presented at the CAR-TCR Summit in Boston, come from an early-stage clinical trial by Scripps Research of patients with B cell cancers. Seven of the first nine participants treated in the ongoing study have responded to the so-called “switchable” CAR-T cells, which have been engineered to only attack cancer cells when combined with an antibody that acts as a switch that unlocks the therapy. Six of these patients have had complete responses, meaning that researchers can no longer spot signs of cancer.


Those findings are on par with existing, approved CAR-T therapies. But one result was not. In patients who developed widespread inflammation often seen after CAR-T therapy, researchers showed they could quell those harmful side effects within a couple days by switching the cancer-killing cells off. Typically, it takes a week or two for these inflammatory storms to subside.

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