Immune to Cancer: The CRI Blog




Curious About Cancer Care? These Are Breakthroughs and Trends in Immunotherapy

Cancer immunotherapy is the most innovative and forward-thinking form of cancer treatment available to patients today. Important, life-improving discoveries are made every year, and 2023 was no different. During CRI’s 2023 CRI Patient Immunotherapy Summit, Elizabeth Jaffee, MD, Deputy Director of The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins and CRI Scientific Advisory Council associate director, highlighted several noteworthy trends in immunotherapy. Patients, caregivers, and patients’ families can all benefit from learning about some of the groundbreaking work on the horizon in cancer immunotherapy research. 

Finding Immunotherapy Solutions for Nonresponsive Patients 

Enabling cancer patients who are not responsive to immunotherapy treatment to become responsive is crucial, particularly for cancers that are more difficult for immunotherapy to treat. CRI Postdoctoral Fellow Zebin Xiao, PhD (University of Pennsylvania) is currently using T cells to help treat highly treatment-resistant tumors in pancreatic cancer. Developments like this one can help decrease the percentage of patients who are nonresponsive to current immunotherapy treatments. 

Vaccines For Treating Cancers 

Cancer vaccines have existed for over 30 years and have been a boon for cancer patients. Dr. Jaffee refers to them as, “a miracle drug with very few side effects.” Additionally, Dr. Jaffee says there are vaccines pending FDA approval for cancers like melanoma that, when combined with immunotherapy treatments, might be able to intercept a cancer tumor’s signals that help protect it from attacking T cells. 

In August 2023, CRI Chief Executive Officer and Director of Scientific Affairs Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, PhD, addressed questions about cancer vaccines in a published blog. Dr. O’Donnell-Tormey noted that a possible near term-use for cancer vaccines is to treat patients who have responded well to surgery and/or chemotherapy who seem to be tumor-free but are at a high risk of recurrence. 

Assessing Genetic Factors in Cancer Development 

Dr. Jaffee states that giving cancer vaccines early to people who might have a high risk of cancer occurrence is a good idea. If environmental factors that can lead to cancer are present around these individuals, then using a cancer vaccine before the disease can develop could be prudent. 

Additionally, addressing childhood cancers is an important priority because they form differently than they do with adults. Childhood cancer can manifest when a piece of a child’s DNA breaks off and infuses with another piece of DNA, forging specialized proteins. The immune system can see these fusions which are a known cause for cancer development. However, we do not yet know exactly how these gene fusions cause cancer. 

Examining Rare Cancers 

Rare cancers, such as esophageal cancer and pediatric leukemia, contribute to about one-quarter of all cancer diagnoses globally. However, several CRI scientists are conducting crucial research to examine some less-addressed rare cancers. Former CRI-Chordoma Foundation CLIP Investigator Cassian Yee, MD (The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center) has previously discussed how breakthroughs in sarcoma research could apply to other forms of rare cancers

Addressing Disparities in Cancer Care 

Dr. Jaffee stresses that a priority is to address cancers that affect underrepresented populations. For example, if clinical trial groups are diverse, then it allows researchers to see and address how the same type of cancer differs among patients. These differences can be due to genetic or environmental factors that can affect patient outcomes. Understanding these nuances could help decrease the inequity gap in cancer care between the broader public and underrepresented groups. 

Dr. Jaffee’s list of cancer trends to keep an eye on is wide-ranging and informative. However, it is not exhaustive, and CRI looks forward to keeping you updated about new developments and discoveries. These exciting, innovative trends have the potential to help us create a world immune to cancer. 

Want to do something big to propel future innovations in cancer immunotherapy research? Make a donation today to the Cancer Research Institute. 

Read more:

This website uses tracking technologies, such as cookies, to provide a better user experience. If you continue to use this site, then you acknowledge our use of tracking technologies. For additional information, review our Privacy Policy.