Speaking of Immunotherapy…

Mike Pohlman | June 11, 2013

Economist_June_2013Last week we highlighted an article in The New York Times about some exciting developments in the world of immunotherapy. Now a complementary article in the current issue of The Economist also features immunotherapy as a promising new front in the war on cancer. The article picks up on the recent American Society of Clinical Oncology (@ASCO) annual meeting and the encouraging immunotherapy research presented. The article opens by explaining briefly how immunotherapy works and why doctors and researchers are hopeful:

Instead of attacking cancer directly, immunotherapy recruits a patient’s immune system to do the attacking. The latest way of doing so is by removing the controls which keep the immune system in check during times of bodily peace, lest it damage the person it is supposed to be protecting. Such “checkpoint-inhibitor” immunotherapy has proved itself over the past three years in the treatment of advanced melanoma, hitherto a death sentence. Now, as a series of papers presented this week to the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, in Chicago, shows, its range is being extended. More effective versions are being brought to bear on melanoma. And the whole approach is being tried out—often successfully—on lots of other cancers, including those of the lungs, the kidneys, the bladder, the colon, the stomach, the head and the neck.

And the success beyond the treatment of melanoma, according to The Economist, is the big take-away from the meeting. Here’s how the article concludes:

But the most intriguing paper of the series was delivered by Roy Herbst, who also works at Yale. He and his colleagues are testing MPDL3280A in a trial open to people who have any type of metastatic or otherwise incurable tumour—those, in other words, for whom established treatments offer no hope. Preliminary results suggest a fifth of the 140 patients in this trial are responding. And, as in the case of Dr Wolchok’s work, these responses are long-lasting.

The crucial point in the MPDL3280A trial is that those who have responded have a range of cancers—not just melanoma. What was once a treatment specifically for melanoma now looks as if it might work for at least some cases of half a dozen common cancers. If such results are confirmed by future studies, a new front will have opened in the war on cancer. Moreover, the troops on this front will be not untested conscripts but confederates who are familiar with the enemy and just needed a little encouragement to join the battle.

It’s articles like this, and the encouraging research they highlight, that motivates our research arm at Team Julia. As these new fronts in the war on cancer open, we want to be there with funding to help strengthen the troops and hasten the day when cancer is defeated.
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Mike Pohlman serves as Team Julia's Executive Director.