Saturday, April 28, 2018

SUPRA CAR T cell system provides more of cosmetic rather than a real advance

This week journal Cell published a new study from scientists at Boston University describing in their own words "a split, universal, and programmable (SUPRA) CAR system" that supposed to provide several advantages over conventional CAR-T cell system. I reviewed and present here my conclusions on this paper.   

The rationale behind SUPRA CAR T cell design was to develop flexible, "plug-and-play" system to fine tune CAR T cells' activity against tumors without need to redesign it over again. SUPRA consists of two modules: signaling zipCAR construct is artificially expressed by T cells on their surface and soluble zipFv construct expressing tumor antigen specific scFv portion which is injected into system. "Zipper" portions of zipCAR/scFv constructs could interact with each other and by injecting different variants of zipper one can modulate strength of interaction.

What advantage(s) SUPRA CAR T cell design provide? 

1st advantage the authors showed could be to tune signal strength of original SUPRA zipCAR T cells interaction with tumor specific zipFv construct by injecting competitive zipFv constructs that have different affinity to zipCAR module and thus modulate tumor specific zipFv action (to prevent cytokine storm).

2nd advantage is thought to be use of the same zipCAR T cells and inject two different zipFv constructs specific for two different tumor antigens (to prevent tumor escape).

3rd advantage the authors suggested would be to deploy decoy zipFv that could inhibit tumor specific zipFv activity only when decoy scFv interacts with non-tumor specific antigens and thus limiting non-target effects in different tissues (to prevent off-target tissue damage).

Later in the paper the authors went on to present series of experiments that showed comparison of effectiveness of SUPRA CAR T cell construct vs. conventional CAR T cells against two different tumor models in vivo.

On the surface all these experiments look quite impressive. However, close analysis of data shows that advantages are more of cosmetic in nature rather than real ones. First, none of those above mentioned three advantages were actually shown for tumor models in vivo (for some reason the authors did not show how injection of competitive low-affinity zipFv construct could affect tumor protection experiments in vivo or whether double antigen expressing tumors could be efficiently eradicated). Moreover, in vitro experiments showing decoy effect was done in manner that is incompatible for in vivo experiments (one cannot wash away decoy zipFv in vivo before introducing tumor specific zipFv construct and it is likely that free floating decoy zipFv construct could inhibit tumor specific zipFv activity even in absence of decoy tissue antigen).

posted by David Usharauli


  1. Dear David, Thanks for a nice post on the SUPRA CAR. Anti-tag CAR T cells seem to be catching on from the initial 2012 publications by Daniel Powel at UPenn and Eduardo Davila and Koji Tamada at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Since then, a number of groups have published on the technology, each reinforcing the benefits of the technology described in the original 2012 publications. And yes, there is a very broad patent issued to Davila and Tamada in January 2016 (United States Patent: 9233125). Please see: Redirecting Gene-Modified T Cells toward Various Cancer Types Using Tagged Antibodies. Clin Cancer Res. 2012 Dec 1;18(23):6436-45. And stop by my poster at the CAR-TCR Summit in September 2018 in Boston which discusses anti-tag CAR T cells. Cheers, Ronald P. Dudek.

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