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Parker Institute scientists herald a cell therapy breakthrough in the lab, using next-gen CRISPR tech to engineer T cells

The two pioneering CAR-T therapies on the market — Kymriah and Yescarta — rely on viral vectors to complete the engineering work needed to make a cancer patient’s T cells into a therapy. But a group of Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy-backed scientists at UCSF and UCLA say they have perfected a new approach using CRISPR gene editing tech that they believe will transform the field — opening the door to a range of cell therapies that can be built and manufactured far more easily than the first-gen crowd.

There’s nothing new about CRISPR, of course. The simple, somewhat blunt gene editing technology — generally focused on cutting into genes while struggling with pasting DNA — has taken academic labs, and quite a few commercial ones, by storm in recent years. But the scientists involved in this project, including noted UCLA researcher Antoni Ribas, say they’ve come up with some new techniques that could make it a widely used alternative to viral vectors — which have sometimes been in short supply.

And they say it fits all the hallmarks of a tech advance: Faster, better, cheaper.

“What takes months or even a year may now take a couple weeks using this new technology,” noted Fred Ramsdell, vice president of research at PICI. “If you are a cancer patient, weeks versus months could make a huge difference.”

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