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Immunotherapy for Kidney Cancer
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What Makes Immunotherapy a Promising Treatment for Kidney Cancer?

Reviewed By: Elke Jäger, M.D.
Krankenhaus Nordwest, Frankfurt, Germany

In 2016 alone, approximately 63,000 new cases of kidney cancer will be diagnosed, with 14,000 deaths. Kidney cancer, more common in men than in women, most frequently occurs in people over the age of 55. Though surgery is the typical treatment for most kidney cancers, also referred to as renal cell cancers, this disease is often resistant to both chemotherapy and radiation treatments. For this reason, more targeted immunotherapies are crucial components of advanced renal cell cancer treatment.

Thankfully, numerous targeted therapies are FDA-approved for treatment of advanced renal cell cancer, making these targeted therapies the most often first treatment method for advanced stages of kidney cancers. Yet another immunotherapy, the checkpoint inhibitor nivolumab, was approved by the FDA to treat kidney cancer that has become metastatic, with chemotherapy typically only used after this and other targeted therapies and immunotherapies have been exhausted.

In fact, cytokine immunotherapies have been used to treat kidney cancer for over ten years. Beyond cytokines and targeted therapies, several other newer immunotherapy treatments are becoming more prominent in the field of kidney cancer therapy, including checkpoint inhibitors and immune modulators, cancer vaccines, adoptive cell therapy, monoclonal antibodies, cytokines, and adjuvant immunotherapies. Many of these kidney cancer immunotherapies are still undergoing clinical testing, but their successful application in the cases of numerous other cancer types is a promising development for the future use of immunotherapy to treat kidney cancer.

Kidney cancer is one of the major cancer types for which immunotherapy treatments are being developed in preclinical studies and clinical trials. As many currently available renal cell cancer treatments produce less then optimal results, enrolling in a kidney cancer clinical trial may be a safe choice for patients affected by the disease.

Currently available treatments for kidney cancer are less than optimal. Therefore, enrolling in a clinical trial is often the best and safest option for patients with kidney cancer.

Are you a patient or caregiver interested in learning more about cancer immunotherapy treatment and clinical trials? If so, visit our Patient section on immunotherapy for kidney cancer.

CRI's Impact on Kidney Cancer

Throughout our history, the Cancer Research Institute has supported the best scientists in the field working toward the improvement of kidney cancer treatment, including financial support of research on IL-2 and interferon to current treatment approaches using checkpoint blockades. CRI also funded a clinical trial of interferon-alpha in human patients in 1978, work that demonstrated kidney cancer's sensitivity to interferon—paving the way for treatment's approval by the FDA.

In 1993, preclinical studies showed that a vaccine from genetically modified and irradiated tumor cells could activate more powerful and longer-lasting anti-tumor immunity when tested on mice. Based on these promising laboratory findings, CRI provided financial support for a phase I clinical trial test of the vaccine in patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma, leading to the creation of GVAX, a therapeutic cancer vaccine.

In 1999, CRI-funded researchers used SEREX technology in identifying tumor-related antigents in patients with renal cell carcinoma, providing a solid foundation for the theory that renal cancer could be immunogenic—recognizable by the human immune system.

In 2010, several CRI researchers successfully completed a phase I study that showed a monoclonal antibody could induce frequent tumor regressions in renal cancer, among other cancer types, with low toxicity rates. PD-1 blockade was thus established as a promising new treatment for several cancers for which previously approved therapies are not adequately effective.

In 2012, CRI awarded a Clinic and Laboratory Integration Program (CLIP) grant to a scientist studying the metabolism of kidney cancer cells and their surrounding immune system cells. In this period of study, anti-tumor immunity T cells were found to be dependent on glucose, and as such fail to function without it. As kidney cancer shares this need for glucose, competition exists that would suggest the effectiveness of manipulation of glucose metabolism. This study also suggests that therapies designed to block immune checkpoints may be found to be more competent when shifting this metabolic competition in favor of the immune cells themselves.

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