'Unprecedented' CAR-T results for lupus net Insight prize for researchers

Two scientists whose work sparked industry excitement about the prospect of using chimeric antigen receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy for autoimmune disease are the recipients of the Lupus Research Alliance’s annual prize for scientific discoveries.

They plan to use the funds to make the treatment more effective, according to the nonprofit research organization.

Georg Schett, M.D., of Germany’s Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg and Marko Radic, Ph.D., of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, were presented with the 2024 Lupus Insight Prize during a June 19 ceremony at the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies meeting in San Francisco. The $100,000 award is given to scientists who have made significant discoveries within the past five years. 

“The importance of the CD19 CAR-T cell therapy research led by [Schett and Radic] lies in the dramatic and unprecedented to date clinical results in the few treated patients within Dr. Schett’s trial showing disease-free remission in people with refractory to standard of care treatments, which has the Lupus Research Alliance hopeful and cautiously optimistic about this new and potentially curative treatment paradigm for lupus,” Teodora Staeva, Ph.D., vice president and chief scientific officer of the Lupus Research Alliance, told Fierce Biotech Research in an email. 

Radic’s prize-winning 2019 study was among the first to demonstrate preclinically that CAR-T could treat lupus. His research, which was partly funded by the organization, showed that CD19-targeted CAR-T therapy was effective at depleting autoreactive B cells, reversing symptoms, reducing disease biomarkers and prolonging the lifespan of two different mouse models of lupus. 

Schett applied Radic’s findings to the clinic with what he described at the time as “remarkable” results. A group of patients who had run out of options for treating their lupus, systemic sclerosis or idiopathic inflammatory myositis are, so far, symptom, drug and disease-free after undergoing CAR-T therapy in a small clinical trial. 

While the progress is clearly award-worthy, a couple of relapses loom over its otherwise startling success. One was in a person with myositis in Schett’s academic trial, while another was in a patient with lupus nephritis enrolled in a CAR-T therapy from Kyverna Therapeutics, the board of which Schett is a member. 

But the prize money may help make future relapses less likely. Radic plans to use it to figure out how an interaction between cells called trogocytosis affects CAR-T therapy success, according to a press release about the award. Meanwhile, Schett will use his reward to analyze the extent of B cell depletion in the lymph nodes of people with lupus who were treated with CAR-T, a step towards optimizing disease management.