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Immunotherapy Hits Primetime

June 10, 2013 | Audrey Tempelsman

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Great news, everyone! Last week, NBC Nightly News featured a segment on a cutting-edge immunotherapy. As you’ll see in the video above, Dr. Roy Herbst of the Yale Cancer Center was interviewed about a paper he presented at the annual American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting, which took place in Chicago this month. There, he discussed his work with an experimental drug called MPDL3280A that’s showing promise in stimulating the immune system to combat cancer.

So, how does MPDL3280A work?

If a pathogen invades the body, the immune system sends out an army of activated T cells to attack it. While the reactivity of the immune system is critical in fighting disease, it can also be dangerous when not tightly controlled. In a healthy individual, PD-L1 helps regulate immune system activity by binding to PD-1—a receptor located on the surface of an activated T cell. This binding action causes the T cell to either die or quiet down. Unfortunately, many types of cancer cells produce an excessive amount of PD-L1. As a result, the immune system’s T cell army is prevented from effectively attacking the cancerous cells, which continue to proliferate. By inhibiting the activity of PD-L1, MPDL3280A allows the immune system to regain its cancer-fighting powers.

At the ASCO meeting, Dr. Herbst disclosed that approximately one-fifth of 140 patients with metastatic or incurable cancer responded positively to treatment with MPDL3280A. And although the NBC video is light on the science, it makes the human impact of this novel therapy clear: Thanks to MPDL3280A, Maureen O’Grady, who was diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in 2009, has been able to attend her daughter’s wedding and be a part of her grandchildren’s lives.

Watch the video above or click here to see other stories of ordinary lives touched by immunotherapy. You can also learn more about lung cancer and the role CRI has in developing immunotherapies for the disease here.

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