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Overcoming the challenges of primary resistance and relapse after CAR-T cell therapy.

INTRODUCTION: While CAR T-cell therapy has led to remarkable responses in relapsed B-cell hematologic malignancies, only 50% of patients ultimately have a complete, sustained response. Understanding the mechanisms of resistance and relapse after CAR T-cell therapy is crucial to future development and improving outcomes.

AREAS COVERED: We review reasons for both primary resistance and relapse after CAR T-cell therapies. Reasons for primary failure include CAR T-cell manufacturing problems, suboptimal fitness of autologous T-cells themselves, and intrinsic features of the underlying cancer and tumor microenvironment. Relapse after initial response to CAR T-cell therapy may be antigen-positive, due to CAR T-cell exhaustion or limited persistence, or antigen-negative, due to antigen-modulation on the target cells. Finally, we discuss ongoing efforts to overcome resistance to CAR T-cell therapy with enhanced CAR constructs, manufacturing methods, alternate cell types, combinatorial strategies, and optimization of both pre-infusion conditioning regimens and post-infusion consolidative strategies.

EXPERT OPINION: There is a continued need for novel approaches to CAR T-cell therapy for both hematologic and solid malignancies to obtain sustained remissions. Opportunities for improvement include development of new targets, optimally combining existing CAR T-cell therapies, and defining the role for adjunctive immune modulators and stem cell transplant in enhancing long-term survival.

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