This has been another year of exciting progress in cancer immunotherapy, providing even more help and hope for patients, although it was not without its challenges.
After last year’s breakthroughs, 2016 cemented immunotherapy’s role in the future of cancer treatment, and it was recognized as the “Advance of the Year” by the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
For the first time ever, immunotherapy is now available for patients with head and neck cancer, with the approval of pembrolizumab.
One new immunotherapy―atezolizumab―was approved for advanced bladder and lung cancers. Additionally, patients with advanced melanoma and lung cancer can now receive immunotherapies as first-line treatments. This means they don’t have to wait until chemotherapy fails to receive immunotherapy. Lymphoma patients also have a new option in nivolumab.
Watch: Diagnosed with metastatic bladder cancer, Shirley enrolled in a clinical trial in 2014 of an experimental immunotherapy drug, atezolizumab. The checkpoint inhibitor was approved by the FDA in May 2016.
However, while immunotherapy’s beneficial uses increased this year, some of its potential drawbacks were also revealed.
A CAR T cell trial was halted after several deaths. Less serious collateral damage has also been associated with checkpoint inhibitors. The risks of these side effects, which are usually minor but have included the development of diabetes, are important for patients to consider before treatment. As one affected patient put it though, “I can deal with diabetes, if I can beat melanoma.”
Doctors have identified potential warning signs that could help mitigate these consequences. Further research into their causes also provides hope for better ways to overcome them.
We here at the Cancer Research Institute support these efforts. Since 1953, we’ve worked to advance immunotherapy, and that means helping to make it as effective―and as safe―as possible for patients. We’re also very grateful for the recognition we’ve received in that regard.
Our pioneering role in the cancer immunotherapy revolution was highlighted in a New York Times cover story, as well as in a Business Insider piece. Our CEO and director of scientific affairs, Dr. Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, even met with Vice President Joe Biden to discuss his Cancer Moonshot Initiative, and was invited to ring the opening bell at the NASDAQ in November in a ceremony celebrating cancer immunotherapy advances. And once again our June awareness initiative, Cancer Immunotherapy Month, spread the word about immunotherapy to millions of people worldwide.
As part of our broader strategy to partner with organizations looking to bring immunotherapy to their communities, this year we partnered with the Lymphoma Research Foundation and brought together experts who helped develop an improved approach to evaluating lymphoma patients treated with immunotherapy. We also announced a new collaboration with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy on a project aimed at developing personalized cancer vaccines for patients. And we have joined with the Fibrolamellar Cancer Foundation to fund four scientists who are exploring the potential for immunotherapy to help teens and young adults who face this ultra-rare form of liver cancer.
Other highlights include:
As 2016 draws to a close, we want to sincerely thank you for all that you have done to help the field (and us!) get where we are: we couldn’t have done it without you!
Here’s to an even better 2017!