New hope in fight against cancer
For many years, treatments centred around cancer focused on poisoning cancer cells in the body – with harsh consequences for the patients.
But, a not-so-new player in the treatment field – immunology – is gaining more ground in showing how, by boosting the immune system, the body can fight off and destroy cancer cells with less adverse effects.
It is a field of treatment that has researchers and experts “excited” about how it can change the way patients are treated, and change the way patients react to treatment.
Cancer immunology is a branch of immunology that studies interactions between the immune system and cancer cells. It is a field of research that aims to discover cancer immunotherapies to treat and retard progression of the disease.
An immune response aimed at a single type of cancer cell can be stimulated by injecting antibodies that have already been activated with proteins from that tumour. The antibodies, called monoclonal antibodies, will bind exclusively to the tumour cells inside the body that bear this protein, initiating an immune response against that tumour specifically.
“In less than a decade, immuno-therapy has gone from theoretic treatment to one that has become a standard of care,” Dr Daniel
“Exciting to see what will happen in future”
Vorobiot, director of the Sandton Oncology Centre said.
Cancer is among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide with about 8 million deaths in 2012.
“Cancer cells go to very long lengths to evade detection. T-cells, which are involved in the immune response, need to remain active when destroying tumour cells,” Vorobiot said.
He explained how two types of drugs, Ipilimumab and Pembrolizumab, were changing the face of immunology.
While clinical trials showed encouraging results such as one carried out in South Africa where out of 108 patients in the trial, the clinical survival was 23% in the third year, he admitted it didn’t work for everyone.
Last year, long term follow-up on patients on Pembrolizumab showed a survival rate of 23 months and that on the 24th month, the survival rate was 49%.
The other problem, Vorobiot said, was that not all cancers were the same and some had many mutations which undermined the ability of the cell to repair.
What was revealed in the trials, however, was that Pembrolizumab was better tolerated than the former drug.
“Since 2011, the FDA gas approved 15 uses in immunology drugs in cancer care – five of them in the past year alone. Over 30 different tumour types are under investigation. It is exciting to see old cancers being treated with new medication and it’s exciting to see what will happen in future,” Vorobiot said.