New hope in fight against can­cer

The Star Late Edition - - LETTERS - VUYO MK­IZE­

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.

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