Cancer immunotherapy once again features prominently in the annual AACR Cancer Progress Report, which provides a yearly “state-of-the-union” look at where we are in cancer research.
The 2014 report describes the substantial progress being made with several types of immunotherapies, including checkpoint blockade antibodies, adoptive T cell therapies, and cancer vaccines. Checkpoint inhibitors, like anti-CTLA-4 and anti-PD-1/PD-L1, have achieved impressive results of late, including a 75% 2-year survival rate in melanoma patients treated with a combination of ipilimumab (anti-CTLA-4; Yervoy) and nivolumab (anti-PD-1). Another form of cancer immunotherapy is called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, which genetically engineers T cells to target and attack cancer. A recent study reports that 86% of pediatric patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) treated with CAR T cell therapy experienced complete remissions. A third approach is therapeutic cancer vaccines, which are being tested in several hundred ongoing clinical trials. One cancer vaccine, called DCVax-L, is designed to treat a form of brain cancer, and in March 2014 was approved by the Paul Ehrlich Institute (the German equivalent of the FDA) for the treatment of patients through an early access program. While noting the tremendous progress being achieved thus far with immunotherapy, the AACR report also emphasizes the need to study combinations of immunotherapies to bring the power of this approach to more patients—a goal that CRI agrees is vital to increasing the success rate of immune-based cancer treatment in a variety of cancer types.
Another major theme in this year's report was the harm to cancer research posed by decreases in the size of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) budgets. Not only have these budgets failed to keep pace with inflation over the past decade, but direct budget cuts in 2011 and 2013 also have further hamstrung researchers seeking funding. CRI joins with AACR in calling for Congress to prioritize the growth of the NIH and NCI so that the remarkable progress of the past can continue.
In the meantime, CRI will keep funding our postdoctoral investigators, whose basic research is paving the way for future cures; our Clinic and Laboratory Integration Program (CLIP) grantees, whose translational research is facilitating critical cross-talk between the basic and clinical science; our Clinical Accelerator program, which is fostering the development of effective new combination immunotherapies for patients in need of better treatments today; and our patient education website, TheAnswerToCancer.org. These four CRI programs directly support the goals that the AACR reports flags as crucial to progress in the field, namely: providing adequate funding to scientists across the spectrum of basic, translational, and clinical research; developing the scientific workforce of tomorrow; increasing patient awareness; and ushering new drugs through regulatory hurdles on the way the clinic.
It's taken us 60 years to get to this exciting place in cancer immunotherapy, and CRI’s goal of defeating cancer has never been closer. Cancer immunotherapy is revolutionizing cancer treatment today, and with your help it will become a lifesaving treatment for even more patients suffering from all types of cancer.
Get your free copy of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Cancer Progress Report 2014 here.
- It is estimated that in the United States alone, nearly 14.5 million cancer survivors are alive today. That is 4% of the United States population, and triple the percentage seen 40 years ago
- The most recent estimate from the NIH indicates that the overall economic cost of cancer in the United States is $216.6 billion
- The number of people dying from cancer is expected to increase from 8.2 million in 2012 to 14.6 million in 2035
- 90% of cancer deaths are the result of metastasis