[Illus] Illustration courtesy survivornet.com
Immunotherapy is not a new approach for the treatment of cancer. Over a century ago William Coley observed beneficial effects in certain cancer patients1 after injecting them with a mixture of Streptococcus pyogenes and Serratia marcescens (Coley’s toxin) to boost the immune system, about which little was known at that time.
During the last decade, our knowledge of human immunology in respect of cancer treatment has improved rapidly. We can expect further immunotherapy treatment advances as laboratories return to work on cancer treatment and prevention following their diversion to Covid-19 research.
The immune system is extremely complex, but our understanding of the immune landscape is improving as we develop new tools, technologies and skills to study and process the information acquired in laboratory and clinical research.
We now appreciate that the bodily immune landscape is as as important as other factors, such as tumour type, in cancer treatment and patient survival.
However, despite excellent progress in the development of therapies targeting immune checkpoint molecules, durable effects are presently observed only in a few cancer patients while being ineffective in the majority of patients.
The parameters which are finally decisive in the effectiveness of Cancer immunotherapies is not adequately known, but it is now well understood that many things besides the tumour type, such as the tumour burden and age of the patient, contribute to the treatment outcome.
New therapeutic targets are actively being sought, and many clinical trials with agents that target the immune system to treat cancer tumours are ongoing across the world. They will advance better understanding of our immune system so that we can manage and manipulate our immune response to Cancer.
Immunotherapy drug treatments are now being used in conjunction with other therapies for Bladder, Colorectal, Head & Neck, Kidney, Liver, Lung and Skin Cancers. Trials in progress show promise for immunotherapy drugs for Brain, Breast, Cervical, Ovarian and Uterine Cancers.
For children who are being treated for Childhood Leukaemia and other Childhood Cancers in specialist hospitals like the Royal Marsden Hospital and the Radcliffe Hospital in UK, St.Jude Children’s Research Hospital in USA, the National Paediatric Haematology/Oncology Programme in Ireland, and other paediatric oncology units around the world, immunotherapy drugs are offering the potential of mitigating the often dire long-term side effects of hitherto conventional treatments.
Cancer Research Institute
1891 Wiilliam Coley uses first immunotherapy to save patient with inoperable cancer
British Journal of Cancer
Human immunology and immunotherapy: main achievements and challenges
Royal Marsden Hospital
Targeted Treatment and Immunotherapy for Lung Cancer
Children’s Haematology and Oncology
St.Jude Children’s Research Hospital
Comprehensice Cancer Center
National Paediatric Haematology/Oncology Programme
National Centre for Children’s Cancer in Ireland