CAR T-cell therapy

A revolutionary new approach to fighting cancer, the Malaghan Institute is working in partnership with Wellington Zhaotai Therapies to develop ground-breaking CAR T-cell therapy in New Zealand.

CAR T-cell therapy clinical trials: A New Zealand first


CAR T-cell therapy involves redirecting a patient’s own immune system to impart long-lasting protection against cancer. By re-programming immune cells, we can fight cancer in more precise and targeted ways in situations where existing treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy and radiation are no longer an option.

We are currently preparing for a CAR T-cell therapy clinical trial to get underway in the near future. This includes meeting strict regulatory and safety requirements required for this type of treatment.

How does it work?

CAR T-cell stands for Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cell. The therapy works by redirecting a patient’s own immune cells (T-cells) in the laboratory, to directly identify and attack cancer cells. These modified T-cells are then returned to the patient where they can attack and destroy cancer cells. The T-cells can act as ‘living drugs’, providing long-term protection against relapse, similar to a vaccine.

MIMR How CAR T cell therapy works

Download a pdf of our CAR T-Cell Cancer Therapy infographic (856kb)

What/who is this treatment for?

CAR T-cell therapy has the potential to target a range of cancers. To date, it has proven most effective in trials targeting B-cell cancers, such as certain types of leukaemia, lymphoma and myelomas. Initial trials will be for patients who have not responded to conventional treatments.

Has this therapy been used anywhere else in the world?

Yes. Although this is the first trial in New Zealand, there are many trials of this kind of treatment worldwide, and the safety profile of these treatments is beginning to be well understood. Some ‘second generation’ CAR T-cell therapies are licensed for use in Australia, the USA and Europe for certain types of leukaemia and lymphoma. The treatment we are working on has been developed as a ‘third generation’ CAR T-cell therapy, which we hope will be more effective or easier to deliver than the treatments currently available elsewhere.

How will we recruit patients for the clinical trial?

Early phase clinical trials are typically small – we envisage around 10-12 patients. When the trial does open, we will inform clinicians who work with the relevant group of patients. Patients should speak with their GP or healthcare specialist about their current treatment options, including trial options. The Malaghan Institute is not involved with the selection or recruitment of patients for clinical trials.

Where can I find out more information about CAR T-cell therapy and other cancer immunotherapies?

There is a wide range of resources, support and avenues available, here are just a few:

Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry is an online registry of clinical trials being undertaken in New Zealand, Australia and elsewhere. is a database of privately and publicly funded clinical studies conducted around the world.

Cancer Research UK has a comprehensive plain English overview of cancer immunotherapy options.

NIH National Cancer Institute also has information and resources on cancer immunotherapy.

Leukaemia and Blood Cancer NZ has a range of information booklets and resources and offers advice and support for blood cancer patients, their families and carers.

Cancer Society NZ provides cancer and treatment information and support.

How can I be part of this journey?

As an independent research organisation and registered charity, we need your help to extend our research in CAR T-cell therapy beyond the first trial and ultimately to other forms of cancer.

David Downs' Down with Cancer campaign is raising funds for our CAR T-cell therapy clinical trials and Freemasons CAR T-cell research programme. Having successfully undergone CAR-T cell therapy in a clinical trial in the USA, David has made the generous pledge to raise $1 million to help give Kiwis better access to this breakthrough treatment. Find out more and support Down with Cancer.

Please note, the Malaghan Institute is not involved with the selection or recruitment of patients for this clinical trial. Please consult your GP or healthcare specialist for more information.