‘Immunotherapy’ the new cancer treatment buzzword

Harnessing a patient’s immune system to recognize and destroy tumour cells has been the central goal in the past few years of anti-cancer immunotherapy trials. There has been considerable interest in Adopted Cell Transfer, (ACT), where tumour-specific cytotoxic T cells are infused into cancer patients. These recognise, target and destroy cancer cells.

ACT is proving to be a promising way forward in treatment for a growing number of cancers and their metastasis, targeting cancer cells by harnessing a patient’s inherent immune system mechanisms to distinguish between healthy and pathologic cells, rather than their anatomic location or propensity to divide.

Dr. Ian Hampson, Professor of Viral Oncology at the University of Manchester comments “ACT is indeed a game changer although it is important to realise that we do yet not fully appreciate its range of activity or its limitations. One thing, which has become very clear, is that it is not unfortunately a universal panacea for all cancers. It is also expensive. This invariably means that decisions to treat with ACT will need to be based on evidence that the particular type of cancer is susceptible to this type of treatment. This can cause problems since, given the recent publicity, patients will understandably want to try it”

tumour cellPhoto credit: fightcancerwithimmunotherapy.com





New immunotherapy drug for neck and head cancer
Recent trials of the immunotherapy drug nivolumab, a targeted therapy, at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London show promise for cancer patients with neck and head tumours.

ICR’s Professor Kevin Harrington who led the research described the drug, produced by Bristol-Myers Squibb Pharmaceutical Ltd and marketed under the name Opdivo, as a game changer.

“Our research has found that nivolumab really is a game-changing treatment for patients with head and neck cancer. Not only does it extend survival – we have now shown that patients feel much better in the extra time that the drug grants them.”

The problem with current chemotherapy drugs, which kill not only targeted cancer cells but also the patient’s healthy ones, is that they cause debilitating and painful side effects such as fatigue, nausea and weight loss as well as destroying a patient’s immune system in the process, leading in some cases to metastasis.

Recent trials of nivolumab on neck and head cancers reported in the Lancet
http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(17)30181-X/abstract show that it not only extends life, but also minimizes the debilitating and painful impact on quality of life in comparison to other chemotherapy drug treatments.
At £5300 for a month’s treatment, nivolumab is not presently accepted as cost-effective by NICE for neck and head cancer treatment. It has therefore refused a licence for its use by the cash-strapped NHS. Negotiations with the pharma company are in progress however to provide a special price for NHS use which would enable NICE to licence it.

Further Reading:

Journal of Ovarian Research
Adoptive immunotherapy against ovarian cancer
Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal
Adoptive T Cell Immunotherapy for Cancer

How Nivolumab works as a targeted therapy
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, (NICE)

Top photo credit: Milzakon

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