Originally published on patch.com
Fighting cancer is an ongoing battle that has not yet been won by humanity. While researchers continue searching for cures, recent developments have identified therapies and treatments that can provide durable remission for some patients for whom few choices may have existed in the past. In 2015 a new immuno-oncology treatment made headlines as it formed part of the therapy that drove the metastatic melanoma of former United States President Jimmy Carter into remission.
Dr. Kevin Dalby is a professor of chemical biology and medicinal chemistry in the College of Pharmacy, and Department of Oncology at The University of Texas in Austin. He studies the mechanisms of cancer cell signaling to develop targeted therapeutics. The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) and the National Institutes of Health, recognized Dr. Dalby's efforts, granting him more than $5 million to support his research.
Below, Dr. Dalby goes into further details about what immuno-oncology is as it continues to demonstrate a striking clinical benefit for various malignancies.
Current immuno-oncology approaches represent some of today's most exciting and unique therapeutic innovations available to treat cancer. These approaches capitalize on the body's immune system and are experiencing a renaissance due to advances in the understanding of how the immune system interacts with tumor cells. This improved understanding has led to the development of novel therapies for a range of cancers and is changing treatment paradigms.
The human immune system comprises a complex system of organs, cells, and molecules that shield the body from antigens, or foreign toxins such as bacteria or viruses, that can create an infection. The immune system also recognizes and attacks any abnormal cells. Healthy immune systems maintain a healthy overall body.
Before the availability of immuno-oncology, the body's immune system would often not have the ability to fight back cancer. Though an immune system might successfully attack and kill cancer cells found in the body, cancer itself would evolve to evade the attack. Cancers can camouflage their cells from the immune system by adapting and mutating, allowing tumors to develop. Immuno-oncology enhances the ability of cells such as T-lymphocytes to identify and eradicate cancer cells.
Immunotherapy is a powerful treatment option for some cancers due to its selectivity and enduring effects and proven enhanced overall survival and tolerance. In some cases, it is a better option for cancer patients compared to other current treatments that may involve some combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Challenges do remain to be overcome; however, through continued research efforts to enhance the numbers of patients who can benefit from this treatment modality.
President Jimmy Carter's Story
Cancer survivors such as the United States President Jimmy Carter exhibit testimonies that mirror the positive effects of immuno-oncology. Carter announced in August of 2015 that his skin cancer, melanoma, had spread and infected his brain and his liver. Luckily, the immunologic drug called Keytruda had just been approved by the FDA in 2014. The former president's doctors approached his cancer with immunotherapy combined with radiation and surgery. After only three months from the start of his treatment, the 91-year-old Carter was in remission.