CARs and Drugs: Pharmacological Ways of Boosting CAR-T-Cell Therapy
The development of chimeric antigen receptor T cells (CAR-T cells) has marked a new era in cancer immunotherapy. Based on a multitude of durable complete remissions in patients with hematological malignancies, FDA and EMA approval was issued to several CAR products targeting lymphoid leukemias and lymphomas. Nevertheless, about 50% of patients treated with these approved CAR products experience relapse or refractory disease necessitating salvage strategies. Moreover, in the vast majority of patients suffering from solid tumors, CAR-T-cell infusions could not induce durable complete remissions so far. Crucial obstacles to CAR-T-cell therapy resulting in a priori CAR-T-cell refractory disease or relapse after initially successful CAR-T-cell therapy encompass antigen shutdown and CAR-T-cell dysfunctionality. Antigen shutdown predominately rationalizes disease relapse in hematological malignancies, and CAR-T-cell dysfunctionality is characterized by insufficient CAR-T-cell proliferation and cytotoxicity frequently observed in patients with solid tumors. Thus, strategies to surmount those obstacles are being developed with high urgency. In this review, we want to highlight different approaches to combine CAR-T cells with drugs, such as small molecules and antibodies, to pharmacologically boost CAR-T-cell therapy. In particular, we discuss how certain drugs may help to counteract antigen shutdown and CAR-T-cell dysfunctionality in both hematological malignancies and solid tumors.