Jim Allison is an iconoclastic scientist who toiled in obscurity for years. Then he helped crack a mystery that may save millions of lives: Why doesn’t the immune system attack cancer?
Researchers have launched a clinical trial to test an immunotherapy drug in patients who have both cancer and an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or multiple sclerosis.
Boosting or suppressing the immune system to treat disease is a delicate matter, as it can lead to adverse effects, such as fungal infections and lymphomas (in patients treated with TNF inhibitors) as well as the acute triggering of autoimmunity or cytokine-release syndrome (in patients treated with immune checkpoint inhibitors or CAR-T cells).
Harnessing the immune system to fight cancer.
A new treatment that uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer is offering hope to patients with advanced disease.
Approaches for boosting the body’s immune system are being tried for autoimmune and heart conditions, but it is too early to know how well they will work in people.
In the future, immunotherapy could mean a personalized treatment, entirely tailored to an individual. As exciting as that sounds, we still have plenty of work to do, as there remains a lot we don’t know about the immune system. Here are some of the challenges we need to overcome to create these personalized treatments.
Although immunotherapy can work wonders for cancer, it does not help everyone, side effects can be fierce, and costs are high. But the field is young.
Preliminary research from around the world indicates that immunotherapies for cancer are less toxic than conventional therapies like chemotherapy and radiation. They also have the potential for fewer and less severe side effects. This means that immunotherapies could improve patients’ quality of life.
Immunotherapies are effective, safe and relatively easy to manufacture. But they aren’t a standalone wonder drug that can bring about the end of cancer.
A multi-pronged approach that involves a combination of the best treatment options has been heralded as the next wave of therapeutic strategies for cancer and may provide a curative treatment.
But there’s still a long way to go.
Riding the coattails of CAR-T cancer therapies, scientists have begun to explore a spin-off: using similar immune cells to treat autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes and prevent rejection of transplanted organs.
Demand by people with fertility problems for corticosteroids, and other immune suppressants sometimes offered at IVF clinics, is driven in large part by medical and consumer misunderstanding of how the immune response works.
Scientists can train the immune system to attack cancer. But the prices—and the body's reaction—can go overboard.
Immunotherapies designed to instigate or enhance an immune response are considered “activating immunotherapies” while those designed to repress an immune response are “suppressive immunotherapies.” This perspective will focus on two areas of immunotherapy, activating immunotherapies for cancer and suppressive immunotherapies for autoimmunity both of which have seen a resurgence in interest in recent years and are likely to transform the treatment of many human diseases in the next 20 years
Immunotherapy Foundation (IF) is a non-profit organization that strategically funds the most promising cancer immunotherapy research, focused on HPV-driven cancers.