Looking to the Future of Cell Therapy

Advancing cell therapy research across a wide spectrum of blood cancers and solid tumors

November 11, 2020

Piecing Together the Cell Therapy Puzzle

Cell therapy has the potential to revolutionize the way scientists approach blood cancer treatment and is a core pillar of Bristol Myers Squibb’s cancer research efforts. Bristol Myers Squibb is the only company with two approved chimeric antigen receptor (CAR T) cell therapies in hematologic malignancies with two distinct targets addressing separate blood cancers. The company draws upon its transformative work and unparalleled experience in hematology and immuno-oncology as it advances a robust pipeline of cell therapies. 

Recognizing that the industry is just beginning to understand how to potentially optimize the clinical benefits of cell therapy and with a great deal still to learn, Bristol Myers Squibb is taking a deliberately broad approach with its research and development. This allows us to identify and move quickly on the approaches that science shows may provide the greatest benefit.

“Our cell therapy program represents just one of many areas of cancer research at Bristol Myers Squibb – and in cell therapy alone, we’re relentlessly pursuing multiple early approaches in collaboration with several leading research partners,” said Kristen Hege, senior vice president, Early Clinical Development, Oncology/Hematology and Cell Therapy. “We think there is significant future opportunity, which is why we’re leaving no stone unturned.”

Advancing the Science of Cell Therapy

The complexity of delivering autologous CAR T cell therapies is unlike any other traditional biologic or medicine, using a patient’s own cells in a highly sophisticated and personalized manufacturing process. Autologous CAR T cell therapies seek to modify the patient’s own T cells to recognize and bind to proteins found on the surface of cancer cells, while sparing normal cells. 

Bristol Myers Squibb continues to explore novel ways to overcome this complexity and make CAR T cell therapies more efficient, scalable and accessible to a broader patient population. As part of this effort, Bristol Myers Squibb is advancing its proprietary NEX-TTM manufacturing platform, which is designed to reduce turnaround time while increasing product quality and control. The company is also exploring “off-the-shelf” approaches where CAR T cells are made from reprogrammed T cells of healthy donors – rather than the patient’s own T cells – and can be delivered to patients in a simpler process without manufacturing wait time. 

Additionally, with its strategic partners, Bristol Myers Squibb is advancing early, cutting-edge research approaches in cell therapy that include: 

  • Dual antigen targeting CAR T approaches that can help mitigate antigen heterogeneity or loss and may result in more efficacious therapies. 
  • CAR T cells armed with tunable, or custom, payloads aimed to overcome tumor microenvironment resistance.
  • The use of sophisticated platforms to identify novel engineered T cell receptors (eTCRs) recognizing antigens found on the inside of cells that can be used to develop eTCR T cell therapies. 
  • Gene editing technology applications to enable engineering features to enhance eTCR and CAR T cell selectivity, persistence and potency.  

Rapidly Pursuing Cell Therapy Scientific Innovation for Patients

Bristol Myers Squibb’s cell therapy research team is uniquely equipped to gain insight into next-generation strategies in cell therapy. With ~1,800 patients treated across six indications and 11 manufacturing process variations, Bristol Myers Squibb scientists have access to one of the largest CAR T product portfolios in the industry, including translational and clinical datasets.

“Cell therapy as a field can move quickly from first-in-human to registration studies, so it’s particularly crucial to be able to analyze data quickly and leverage impactful insights,” said Teri Foy, senior vice president, Research and Early Development Immuno-Oncology (I-O) and Cell Therapy. “Through machine learning and other sophisticated approaches, we’re using data to deliver critical insights that inform and optimize patient selection and process improvements, as well as engineering and combination approaches to address resistance mechanisms – and these insights are all the more valuable given that our datasets are derived from diverse patient populations and manufacturing processes.” 

Scientists are also applying learnings from I-O resistance in solid tumors and overcoming hostile tumor microenvironments to better guide next-generation strategies in cell therapy.

With multiple cell-based therapeutic approaches under investigation in blood cancers and solid tumors, Bristol Myers Squibb’s researchers are focused on harnessing the immune system to reimagine the future of cell therapy and ultimately bring potentially life-changing cell therapies to more patients as quickly as possible.

Did You Know? 

Like many of the most important scientific innovations, cell therapy has a surprising history. In 1996, the first U.S. clinical trials evaluating CAR T were in HIV infected, discordant twin pairs and later in patients with metastatic colorectal cancer. 

In 2012, researchers found CAR T therapy showed promise in cancer treatment when a six-year-old girl with acute lymphoblastic leukemia received an experimental treatment that used a disabled form of the HIV virus to genetically modify the immune cells and enable them to kill cancer. The successful treatment helped to launch the explosion of CAR T development. Learn more about the history of cell therapy and other advances in cancer research here.