CAR-T Research – An Interview with UCL’s Claire Roddie
As we celebrate 10 years of CAR-T it is important to consider the future of CAR-T. We talked to Claire Roddie to understand the integral ongoing CAR-T projects taking place at UCL and UCLH, considering the main challenges and impact of this research, as CAR-T continues to make strides as an effective cancer treatment.
Could you please introduce yourself and your involvement in CAR-T research?
My name is Claire Roddie and I am a Consultant Hematologist at UCLH and an Associate Professor in Hematology at UCL. My research focus is on adoptive cell therapies, and I initially undertook a clinician scientist role with Martin Pule in 2016 to develop the UCL CAR-T program. My current role encompasses pre-clinical development of novel cell therapy projects, GMP manufacture and process development, and clinical trial design. I am also responsible for the advanced therapies clinical service at UCLH.
What current work on CAR-T are you/ your company involved in?
The UCL CAR-T program has grown massively in size and scope over the last five years. Our broad approach is to prototype early and iterate quickly. We have developed a series of pipelines to facilitate rapid protein engineering/synthetic biology, with successful constructs moving quickly into product manufacture process development and clinical study design stages. Learning from studies in progress and integrating these learnings into new and related clinical studies is key to progress. A key CAR-T product for us is AUTO1, a fast off-rate CD19 CAR developed at UCL, which has shown huge promise in phase 1 academic clinical trials in adult and pediatric B-cell leukemia (B-ALL). AUTO1 is now being tested in a phase II global study of adult B-ALL, sponsored by Autolus Therapeutics. We are also investigating the safety and feasibility of AUTO1 for other B-cell cancers including primary CNS lymphoma and will be presenting some clinical data at EHA 2022. We also have a portfolio of CAR-T options for other blood cancers, including T-cell lymphoma/leukemia, multiple myeloma, AML and NK-cell disorders, and have a growing pipeline of clinical studies in development for solid tumors such as glioma and neuroblastoma.
What are the main challenges facing academic research in CAR-T right now?
CAR-T research is a very competitive field, and it can be difficult for academic centers with budget and staffing constraints to keep pace with commercial companies. We have learned over the years to be focused and streamlined in our research in order to stay competitive. CAR-T research, and in particular clinical translation, is expensive, labor and time intensive work. To support and grow the UCL CAR-T program, we spend a lot of time writing grants, but recognise how the availability of research funding has been adversely impacted by the pandemic and the current economic crisis. This is a big challenge for academic CAR-T research right now.
What impact do you think CAR-T research will have on offering potential treatments for patients?
We have already seen how CAR-T research has led directly to life-saving therapies entering the clinic, transforming the clinical landscape for patients. For some blood cancers, patients can even access CAR-T on the NHS. At UCL we are proud of being able to offer CAR-T trial options to patients: it is very rewarding for us to see patients achieving long term responses to therapies we have designed and delivered in house.
What can we expect for CAR-T in the future? Are there any future projects you are involved in that we should look out for?
Clinical studies of UCL CAR-T for solid tumors and universal CAR-T approaches are big priorities for the UCL CAR-T program right now.