Medical Research Update: Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy is the current buzzword in cancer research, and for good reason. Current front line treatments are usually radiology and chemotherapy. But, as anyone who has gone through these treatments will tell you, the biggest downsides are the side effects. Instead, Immunotherapy harnesses the body’s own defenses to overcome cancer.

In a study update in early March, 36% of lymphoma patients who were treated with a new immunotherapy called CAR-T cell therapy showed no signs of the disease after six months. And overall, 82% of patients had their cancer shrink by half during the study. According to the developer, Kite Pharmaceuticals, the side effects are manageable.

One caveat: it is dangerous. Three of the participants died during treatment, and two of those are attributed to the therapy. However, all patients had failed all other treatments, and their median survival length was six months before they underwent the process. At nine months after the study, more than half of the original 101 participants are still alive. Dr. Fred Locke, co-leader of the study, said “These are heavily treated patients who have no other options.”

The CAR-T process filters a patient’s own blood and alters T-cells to target cancer. The T-cells are then reintroduced through an IV. They then multiply naturally in the body, spreading out to kill cancer cells.

These advances, and the race between Kite and Novartis AG to develop and license a treatment, are because of an investment by the U.S. Government’s National Cancer Institute. The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society also helped sponsor the study.

Full results will be released this month at the American Association for Canter Research conference. For more information, click here.