Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog



Cell Therapy Development Lagged in 2020 But Is Gaining Ground Again, New CRI Report Shows

Global development of cellular immunotherapies to treat cancer is picking up speed following a 2020 lag in the clinical pipeline coinciding with the worldwide spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new report from the Cancer Research Institute (CRI) shows.

In a three-year follow-up analysis of the global cellular therapy development pipeline, published online today in the journal Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, a team from the CRI Anna-Maria Kellen Clinical Accelerator provided an update to their 2019 and 2020 reports tracking the number of ongoing cell therapy clinical trials, number and type of cell therapy agents and top cell therapy targets in development, and real-world data on their current application in clinical practice.

The CRI study, conducted in collaboration with IQVIA, a provider of advanced analytics, technology solutions, and contract research services to the life sciences industry, found that the number of agents and clinical trials in the cell therapy space worldwide continues to grow, albeit not yet at pre-pandemic rates.

Key findings from the report include (as of April 16, 2021):

  • The global cellular therapy pipeline added 2,073 active agents, 572 more when compared to the 2020 update, representing a 38% increase in the past year compared to a 48% increase from 2019 to 2020.
  • There are 1,358 active cell therapy trials, an increase of 78% compared to the 762 active cell therapy trials reported in 2019, with a sustained increase of 43% and 24% between 2020 to 2021 and 2019 to 2020, respectively.
  • CAR T cell therapies continue to dominate the landscape, comprising 49% (668) of all cell therapy trials active in 2021.

2021 Active cell therapy landscape by therapy type
The enduring growth in both number of cell therapy trials and dominance of CAR T is particularly remarkable given COVID-19’s disruptive impact on global clinical trial operations.   

  • CD19, BCMA, and CD22 remain the top cell therapy targets for hematological indications. However, compared to the significant increases observed from 2019 to 2020 (51%, 83%, and 80% in CD19, BCMA, and CD22 targeting agents), the increases were less than modest from 2020 to 2021 (15%, 23%, and 56%).
  • The top solid tumor targets remain largely the same with undisclosed tumor associated antigen (TAA) being the most prevalent.
  • Like agents aimed at hematological indications, most agents for both solid tumors and hematological indications employ CAR T cell modalities with enhancements to overcome the challenges associated with recognition, trafficking, and surviving in the tumor. Of note, cell therapy agents targeting GPC2/3 continues its fast growth of agents in development, almost doubling each year since 2019.

The CRI study also revealed that the United States and China maintain their dominance in the cell therapy development pipeline, with 791 and 695 agents from each region respectively. The number of total cell therapies in development, however, shows a muted growth of 31% in the United States and 40% in China compared to growth of 40% in the U.S. and 69% in China from 2019 to 2020.

The analysis also shows a rebound in the number of patients receiving cell therapeutics after decreasing during the COVID-19 pandemic’s early peak in 2020. The study’s authors conclude that their analysis demonstrates the potential for continued expansion of the cellular therapy development pipeline as clinical trials testing these therapies become more accessible given improvements in managing COVID-19 and ongoing innovations in the field.

Read the full findings from our analysis in Nature Review Drug Discovery and access our up-to-date interactive cancer cell therapy landscape.  

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