The Immunotherapy Revolution

Immunotherapy characterizes the most promising cancer treatment approach since chemotherapy was developed in the late 1940s. While the potential that immunotherapy holds has been understood for more than a century, it is only recently that multiple agents for the treatment of cancer have been approved.1 The last few decades have shown an advancement in immunotherapy, but newer types of immune treatments are being studied and developed, which will influence the future of numerous diseases, especially cancer. Over the next year, experts predict immunotherapy to advance by leaps and bounds through accelerated early phase trials and as more companies focus their resources on gaining headway in the field.


What is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses cytokines, monoclonal antibodies, cell therapy, vaccines, and immune checkpoint inhibitors, among others, to boost, stimulate, and restore the immune system to combat infection and disease. Jill Weberding, an oncology nurse, says of this treatment, “In essence, we are empowering patients and their bodies to attack and conquer their cancer [along with many other diseases and infections].”2 While immunotherapy is set to majorly impact the treatment of cancer, it shouldn’t be overlooked as a promising treatment option for other diseases such as autoimmune disorders, Alzheimer’s, and Crohn’s Disease.3,4 Many of the treatments work in various ways: some boost the immune system, while others train the immune system to attack the diseased cells directly. Here’s how it works:

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Immunotherapy and Early Phase Clinical Trials
Early phase oncology trials in immunotherapy differ from the usual trial approach in order to accelerate the FDA approval process. Immunotherapy Phase I trials have begun to include a larger population to test the drug in the first phase. These larger trials are then broken down into multiple cohorts to test the effects of the treatment on a variety of different cancer types. For example, one trial may have 3 different cohorts testing the immunotherapy effect on melanoma, kidney cancer, and lung cancer. This approach enables researchers to understand the clinical response to one immunotherapy treatment across multiple types of cancer. It also allows them to analyze any unusual safety issues that may appear in melanoma cancer patients versus kidney cancer patients. The goal is to accelerate the early phase trials so that more immunotherapy treatments can be utilized for a wider population.


Moving Forward
Many are predicting 2016 to be the year for immunotherapy and some researchers anticipate that by 2024 immunotherapy will comprise more than 60% of all cancer treatments. While it is unreasonable to believe that immunotherapy will be the treatment option 100% of the time, key players in the pharmaceutical industry are looking to make huge strides this year in immunotherapy innovation. Roche is currently hiring 30 additional immunotherapy experts to work in their innovation center, while other companies are looking to make advances in the area themselves. While 2016 is just beginning, we can expect some major milestones to be achieved for the future of immunotherapy this year.

1 “Fight Cancer With Immunotherapy: State of Cancer Immunotherapy.” Fight Cancer With Immunotherapy. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2016.

2 Weberding, Jill. “The Immunotherapy Revolution Empowers Patients and Their Bodies to Fight Cancer.” ONS Connect. ONS Connect, 9 June 2015.

3 Iyer, Shweta. “Scientists May Have Figured Out How To ‘Switch Off’ Autoimmune Disease.” Medical Daily. Medical Daily, 03 Sept. 2014.

4 Lemere, Cynthia A. “Immunotherapy for Alzheimer’s Disease: Hoops and Hurdles.” Molecular Neurodegeneration. Center for Neurologic Diseases, 22 Oct. 2013. Web.

5 Iyer, Shweta. “Scientists May Have Figured Out How To ‘Switch Off’ Autoimmune Disease.” Medical Daily. Medical Daily, 03 Sept. 2014.