Immunotherapy for cancer treatment has been a major are of focus for the past several years, and it has proven effective in multiple cancer types. Numerous studies are now looking at immunotherapies in combination with other traditional chemotherapy regimens, with personalized medicines, and with inhibitors of epigenetic modifiers. All of this is great, and contributing to significant strides in the right direction for cancer research. There are more than 1,000 combination trials harnessing the ability of the immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells, primarily through the use of checkpoint inhibitors or T-cell modification and expansion. More recently, new evidence has been growing to show that there is another side to the immune system we can harness for therapeutic benefit.
While the current approach deals with the adaptive immune response where immune cells surveil their environment and react in response to certain antigen after identification and processing to arm an “attack” on the antigen’s host, there are new reports that the innate immune response, which is far less complex and more immediate, may also elicit a therapeutically beneficial response. Major companies such as Merck, Novartis, and Bristol Myers Squibb have been investing in this approach with so far, good results. The idea here is that so-called “cold” tumors, or those that are uninflamed and are not eliciting immune response at all, can be “heated” up. The new innate immune response drug candidates are being investigated to work in combination with the current adaptive immune response therapeutics – so these new candidates are administered to initiate an immune response in an otherwise response-free tumor, and then once the immune cells have infiltrated the tumor, the adaptive response drugs can act to optimize the overall immune response waged on the tumor.
These drugs which are aimed to elicit immune response are also being studied for other conditions aside from cancer, such as autoimmune diseases. In cancer, they have already made it into Phase I clinical trials. This new approach is very exciting and promising, and is making waves in the cancer research community.
Sources: Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, Wikipedia, Pixabay, Youtube, Aladdin Creations