Cathy Miller

The Nobel Prize-Winning Immunotherapy Is Expected to Become a New Weapon against Cancer

Blog Post created by Cathy Miller on Nov 30, 2018

The revolutionary cancer therapy pioneered by the Nobel Prize winners in Physiology or Medicine in 2018 is believed to be effective in helping humans fight cancer in the future. Most importantly, the side effects of this new treatment are relatively small compared to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy can damage the normal cells of the patient's while destroying the cancer cells, often causing toxic side effects to the patient, and immunotherapy will activate the immune system of the patient's body to target only the tumor cells.

Scientist James Allison from the United States and Tasuku Honjo, a Japanese scientist, won this year's Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering different "brakes" of the body's immune system. When the function of the immune system "brake" is turned off, it can allow the body's defense system to attack cancerous cells quickly and efficiently. Researcher Allison discovered the blocking effect of a checkpoint inhibitor molecule called CTLA-4 in 1995, while Honjo discovered PD-1.

When these "brakes" are identified, researchers can study how to turn off the "brake" function and promote T cells to attack tumor cells. Researcher Pierre Golstein said that our goal is to neutralize "brake" molecules, including CTLA-4 and PD-1, to allow T cells in the patient's body to re-act to attack cancer cells. Professor Sheena Cruickshank from the University of Manchester said that this new treatment can use the body's own energy to achieve self-healing of the disease.

At present, many conventional cancer therapies will bring a lot of side effects to the body while destroying cancer cells. However, the newly developed immunotherapy is more targeted and specific, which can promote the immune function of the body, directly targeting tumor cells and kill them.


Immunotherapy- A Flourishing Field

Currently, this therapy has only been used for a few years in patients, and its efficacy against certain cancers is still very poor, such as pancreatic cancer and brain cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, there are currently 800 clinical trials in the world. The pharmaceutical industry has invested heavily in this area and more than 30 drugs are under development in June. Today, the FDA has approved a variety of immunotherapies, including targeting PD-1.

Charles Swanton, chief clinician of the UK Cancer Research Institute, said that the findings of many researchers have promoted the development of immunotherapy, but the field is still in its infancy, so it may be very exciting to consider the future development of this research.

Researcher Golstein's team first identified the CTLA-4 molecule in 1987. He believes that immunotherapy may be a substitute for chemotherapy, becoming a new type of cancer treatment. For example, immunotherapy can control 20%-50% of specific malignant melanoma, but this treatment is not completely harmless. Activation of the immune cells of the patient's body can induce the appearance of autoimmune diseases in specific organs, but researchers can control this situation.

In a study conducted in June, the researchers examined the effects of a particular immunotherapy on the treatment of non-small cell lung cancer compared with chemotherapy. The results showed that compared to chemotherapy, the monoclonal antibody drug (Keytruda) can effectively extend the life of the patients by 4-8 months.


Immunotherapy - Not a Cure for All Cancer Types


However, Karl Peggs, a researcher at University College London, said that this immunotherapy may not be suitable for anyone. We all know that some patients have low auto-immune response rates and there is no evidence that these pathways can positively limit the immune system function of patients, or some cancer patients who have not had severe mutations. Although theoretically, this new type of immunotherapy is effective for most cancers, it is very effective for cancers with high levels of mutations such as melanoma and lung cancer.

Sometimes patients may be enthusiastic about this therapy, and some patients in the United States even ask their therapists to immediately use immunotherapy instead of the traditional treatments that are currently being performed, such as chemotherapy. Because these patients believe that immunotherapy can be more effective in treatment. Researcher Allison said that immunotherapy may not replace all other cancer therapies today, he said at a news conference in New York that immunotherapy will become part of the treatment of cancer patients over the next five years, while researchers Honjo said that they will continue their previous research so that future immunotherapy can save more lives for cancer patients.

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