What is cancer cell and gene therapy?

CAR T-cell therapies save lives.

T cells are a natural and essential part of a person’s immune system. CAR T-cell therapies reprogram an individual’s own T cells using chimeric antigen receptors (CARs), which enable them to detect and destroy cancer cells. Today, the first-ever FDA-approved CAR T-cell treatments for blood cancers are saving lives thanks to early-stage funding from the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy.

Transforming cancer treatment.

Established approaches for treating cancer include cutting it out with surgery, burning it with radiation or poisoning it with chemotherapy — all of which come with side effects that can cripple a person’s quality of life or be life-ending in themselves. Cell and gene therapies are changing this.

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A better way.

Unlike surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, cell and gene therapies harness the power of a patient’s own immune system to destroy cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. Cell and gene therapies work by changing the DNA within an individual’s existing cells to give those cells a new set of instructions that can help them find and fight cancer. This is called genetic engineering, one type of cancer gene therapy.

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Cancer DNA is different.

All genes are made of DNA. Genes are built into the nucleus of cells and they tell cells how to make proteins. Proteins are the molecules that control the way cells behave. Cancer cells behave differently from normal cells because they have faults or mutations in their genes that make them divide too often and form tumors.

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No more hiding.

Cancer thrives by hiding from a person’s immune system, which prevents an attack. However, cancer cells possess and/or express different kinds of molecules known as biomarkers. Using cell and gene therapy, a person’s immune system cells can be engineered so the immune cells are able to detect and destroy mutant cells that express cancer biomarkers.

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No one-size-fits-all.

Different kinds of cancers have different kinds of biomarkers, which means different kinds of cell and gene therapies are required to fight them. Unlike traditional treatments, cell and gene therapy is personalized to attack specific cancer cells for specific patients. As understanding of basic cancer biology advances, so do promising strategies for cures.

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Delivery systems.

Getting genetically engineered DNA into cancer cells is one of the most difficult aspects of gene therapy. Our Research Fellows are working on finding new and better ways of doing this. Using viruses and bacteria as cancer vaccines and delivery systems (known as vectors) are being explored. These viral vectors are also genetically engineered so that they enter only cancer cells without causing other illness. Cancer vaccines are designed not only to kill tumor cells, but they can also trigger the immune system to attack the tumor and provide a long-term defense against the disease returning.

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Radical results start here.

CAR T-cell therapies genetically engineer DNA in an individual’s T cells (which are part of that person’s immune system) using chimeric antigen receptors (CARs). This enables the T cells to detect and destroy cancer cells. Today, the first-ever FDA-approved CAR T-cell therapy products for blood cancers are saving lives thanks to early-stage funding from Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy.

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A cancer free future is possible.

Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy enables the world’s brightest scientific minds to explore the unknowns of cancer biology and the immune system and leverage new genetic technologies to defeat cancer.

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