Lung cancer immunotherapy: chemical tricks

From Nature Outlook, 11 September 2014:

The immune system has evolved over millions of years to protect the human body against microbes, pathogens and parasites. Which makes it all the more puzzling to immunologists as to why, when it comes to helping the body defend itself against cancer, immunotherapy treatments designed to enhance the immune system have so far failed to make even the slightest dent in halting the spread of the disease.

So when medical oncologist Naiyer Rizvi became involved with the phase I trial of a tumour antibody a few years ago, he was prepared for failure. In fact, there was a certain glum expectation in the lung-cancer community that this trial would go the way of so many other attempts to fight cancer by enlisting the body’s own immune system.

One of the first trial patients Rizvi saw at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York City had a large adrenal tumour that was causing him so much pain he was rushed to hospital for emergency treatment soon after he got his first dose of the trial treatment, the immunotherapeutic agent nivolumab that was under development by Bristol-Myers Squibb based in New York City. In May 2014, Rizvi saw the same patient again. It was one year since completion of a two-year course of therapy with nivolumab and the man’s tumours were still shrinking. “When you’ve got these dramatic unexpected responses,” Rizvi says, “you kind of rethink the direction of your career.”

He’s not the only one feeling this way: a wave of optimism is sweeping through the lung-cancer field. Data from trials of different immunotherapies raise the promise of new agents with response rates and survival advantages that outweigh anything else on offer, adding months and even years to life expectancy. Read more.

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