The clinical landscape for cancer is currently undergoing an exciting shift. Treatment based around generic chemotherapies may be taking a back seat to a host of new, targeted therapies as scientists and doctors are beginning to leverage patients’ own immune systems to eliminate cancer cells – and finding success. While the treatment of cancer by immunological tools can be tracked back to the early 1900s, recent advancements in assay methods and technologies are finally bringing new levels of immune-based curative cancer treatments, and possibly even the eradication of some cancer types, within reach.
There are many extremely promising methods in the realm of immune oncological treatment; in this blog post I will focus on a few examples that demonstrate the immense power immuno-oncology holds.
Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) that are specifically designed to target cancer-specific antigen have already become an important part of the treatment for many cancers. In this form of immunotherapy, mAbs are directed to bind monospecifically to cancer cells or proteins in an effort to stimulate the patient’s immune system to attack those cells. The key to using mAbs in fighting cancer is determining which antigens are linked to certain types of cancer. Once that link is established it is possible for scientists to develop specialized antibodies to target that particular cancer-specific antigen.
For example, TYRP1 is a protein which is highly expressed in melanocytes and melanoma cells, and the first results of using mAbs directed against TYRP1 to treat advanced malignant melanoma are highly promising. As researchers find more antigens linked to cancer of many types, new mAbs are being studied for treatment.
Adoptive Cell Therapy
Adoptive cell therapy (ACT) is a cellular approach to modifying T cell receptors (TCR) or generating chimeric antigen receptor expressing T lymphocytes (CAR-T), which utilize patients’ tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TIL) to kill their own tumor cells. T cells have many beneficial properties that make them amenable for cancer treatment: their responses are specific, robust, and have memory, making them able to maintain therapeutic effect for years after initial treatment. The specifically engineered T cells used in ACT open the door for highly targeted, personalized medicines for all cancer types.
In fact, this method has been one of the most effective ways to induce complete, durable regressions in patients with melanoma, and has been shown to generate remarkable responses in patients with advanced blood cancers. Such a high level of success in these areas has raised the scientific community’s interest in using ACT and similar approaches to treat other types of cancer. New treatments using TIL are currently being tested in clinical trials in people with melanoma, kidney cancer, and ovarian cancer among others.
Immune Checkpoint Therapy
Immune checkpoint therapy, which targets regulatory pathways in T cells to enhance antitumor immune responses, is quickly becoming an important part of the treatment for cancers such as melanoma and non-small cell lung cancer. Unlike many immune treatments, immune checkpoint therapy does not target the cancer or tumor cells themselves. The method involves development of agents that interact with intracellular checkpoints, such as PD-1 (programmed cell death protein 1). PD-1 normally blocks T cells from attacking other cells in the body, and can sometimes be used by cancer cells to avoid being attacked by the immune system. Checkpoint inhibitors target the molecules that regulate the body’s T cells, with the overall goal of removing inhibitory pathways that block natural T cell responses.
This therapy has elicited durable clinical responses and, in some patients, long-term remissions. Many drugs that target either PD-1 or PD-L1 are now being tested in clinical trials. In moving forward with this particular treatment approach, a key concern is that in suppressing the body’s natural defense against T cells, the rest of the body may be open to cellular damage.
BioAgilytix as a Part of the Movement
Cancer treatment has historically consisted of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy, but immunotherapy has recently emerged as a new and promising weapon in the fight against this terrible disease. Instead of targeting cancer by its location in the body or propensity to divide, immuno-oncology allows us to leverage the inherent mechanisms that the immune system uses to distinguish healthy tissue from pathologic tissue. These molecular and possibly personalized approaches may lead to the dusk of generic chemotherapies and to a new level of curative cancer treatment – and possibly even to the eradication of most types of cancer.
BioAgilytix is working alongside our pharma and biotech customers to help lead this change. The development of novel immuno-oncological therapeutic tools requires specific and sensitive bioanalytical methods and customized assays, and our veteran scientists have the expertise it takes to advance them. You can learn more about our immuno-oncology solutions here.
Also please feel free to reach out to me for further insight on how we support molecularly targeted therapies for cancer treatments.