APR 22, 2015 03:43 PM PDT

Immunotherapy is Not a Curiosity Anymore

One of the main sessions at this year's Experimental Biology Conference in Boston was the Tang Prize Award lecture. It was created in December 2012 to recognize exemplary research accomplishments from all over the world in four fields: sinology, sustainable development, rule of law, and biopharmaceutical science.
What is the status of immunotherapy?
James P. Allison, Ph.D., and Tasuku Honjo, Ph.D., were the first recipients of the biopharmaceutical science prize. Dr. Allison is a professor and chair of Immunology at the University of Texas's M.D. Anderson Cancer. Honjo is a professor in the department of Immunology and Genomic Medicine at Kyoto University in Japan.

Dr. Allison came to the conference to present a summary of their research. Both scientists were recognized for their work regarding two inhibitory molecules, PD-1 and CTLA-4, which has led to the creation of a new form of cancer immunotherapy called immune checkpoint blockade.

PD-1 and CTLA-4 are essentially off-switches emitted by T cells capable of shutting down immune system responses. The professors were able to craft new antibodies to block these signals, allowing the immune system to launch an attack when a tumor begins forming in the body.

A number of developments arose from this discovery:

• Ipilimumab, a drug Dr. Allison said was derived from his antibody, had shown extraordinary results in clinical trials. Twenty-three percent of patients with advanced melanoma "survived at least three years," according to The Wall Street Journal. This survival benefit helped the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) make the decision to approve the drug, now known as Yervoy, manufactured by Bristol-Myers Squibb, in 2011 primarily for the treatment of metastatic melanoma.
• The Tang Prize Foundation's website reports that Dr. Honjo's work with PD-1 antibodies is currently being evaluated for treating non-small cell lung cancer as well as other pathogens.

"Immunotherapy is not a curiosity anymore," Dr. Allison told the audience referring to the accelerated number of scientists who are searching for tumor targets and refining an antibody-oriented therapy to treat cancers that have never been curable.

However, Dr. Allison mentioned a number of issues that needed to be considered in order for the clinical development for this form of therapy to progress, such as targeting new molecules to enhance efficacy as well as defining the anti-tumor effect's molecular and cellular mechanisms.
About the Author
  • Ilene Schneider is the owner of Schneider the Writer, a firm that provides communications for health care, high technology and service enterprises. Her specialties include public relations, media relations, advertising, journalistic writing, editing, grant writing and corporate creativity consulting services. Prior to starting her own business in 1985, Ilene was editor of the Cleveland edition of TV Guide, associate editor of School Product News (Penton Publishing) and senior public relations representative at Beckman Instruments, Inc. She was profiled in a book, How to Open and Operate a Home-Based Writing Business and listed in Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who in Advertising and Who's Who in Media and Communications. She was the recipient of the Women in Communications, Inc. Clarion Award in advertising. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Ilene and her family have lived in Irvine, California, since 1978.
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