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Cancer Immunotherapy on the Rise

May 13, 2013 | Brian Brewer

Immunotherapy for cancer is on the ascendancy. For 60 years, Cancer Research Institute scientists have worked to unlock the secrets of the immune system, with the goal of harnessing and strengthening our body's natural defenses against cancer. After decades of disappointment, immunotherapies like vaccines and antibodies are now extending the lives of patients. And in a modest but growing percentage of patients, these treatments are providing long-term protection, with some patients remaining cancer free for many years.

“A couple of years ago the big story was that immunotherapy can work,” he said, referring to Yervoy’s initial success. ‘Now immunotherapy has entered the mainstream.”

Jedd D. Wolchok, M.D., Ph.D., at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, gave the above quote in a recent article from Bloomberg News highlighting the potential of immunotherapy to transform cancer treatment. Dr. Wolchok, who is director of the CRI/Ludwig Cancer Vaccine Collaborative and an associate director of the CRI Scientific Advisory Council, has extensive experience in leading clinical trials of promising immunotherapies.

YervoyHe is currently the lead of an early phase trial testing a combination of Yervoy (anti-CTLA-4, ipilimumab), which the FDA approved in 2011 as a first-line treatment for advanced melanoma, and an investigational antibody (anti-PD-1, MDX-1106), both of which have been shown to strengthen T cell responses against tumors by blocking inhibitory pathways. The combination of the two, doctors hope, will increase the percentage of patients who respond and who exhibit durable anti-cancer immune protection.

"You’re setting up a fair fight" with the disease, said Nils Lonberg, a senior vice president at Bristol-Myers, in a telephone interview. "The immune system is just as adaptable as the cancer."

Excitement continues to build in the field as scientists and clinicians work together to find the optimal drug combinations that will be most likely to confer long-term protection against cancer recurrence. We anticipate there will be many more stories in the years ahead of how immunotherapy is changing the face of cancer treatment.

Give the article a read here.

Photo Caption: Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.'s Yervoy was the first drug proven to extend survival in advanced melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer. Photographer: Robert Bruschini/Bristol Myers Squib via Bloomberg


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