Immunotherapy promising for cancer

While clinical trials are still ongoing and there are many different approaches, using the immune system to target cancer and block the “checkpoints” that halt the immune response are already showing results, a researcher at Georgia Regents University Cancer Center said.

During a Twitter chat on Wednesday sponsored by the American Association for Cancer Research, Dr. Esteban Celis answered questions on behalf of the organization. The opportunity attracted many of the top cancer centers in the country, all eager to talk about the promise of immunotherapy. Not all of the approaches work the same, Celis tweeted. “Some (Yervoy) take brakes off the immune system’s natural cancer-fighting ability,” he wrote. “Some (Provenge, Proleukin) increase immune cells’ killing power; some (Gazyva) flag cancer cells for destruction.”

GRU has clinical trials on a number of approaches to defeating the “checkpoints” that tumors exploit to evade the immune system and many of the other researchers agreed that it is key to making the immune system recognize and attack tumors. But it will probably be done in combination, Celis wrote.

“Immunotherapy is most likely not going to replace chemo, but work in concert with it,” he tweeted.

The type of response immunotherapy provokes seems to depend on the approach and the type of tumor in question, the researchers agreed. Earlier stage tumors might respond better than later stage and some types of cancer, such as melanoma and kidney cancer, might provoke a bigger response, Celis wrote. While many of the therapies are still in clinical trials, there are already some getting a long-lasting effect.

About a fourth of the melanoma patients who received Yervoy are still seeing a benefit more than four years later and the National Cancer Institute tweeted that some melanoma patients have been in remission more than 10 years after immunotherapy. Yale Cancer Center tweeted that it had a three-time melanoma patient that achieved a total response after immunotherapy.

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