Targets for Immunotherapy in Early-Stage Breast Cancer

The gist: Treatments called immunotherapies, which boost a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer, are an exciting area of cancer research. One kind of immunotherapy drug works by targeting a specific protein called PD-L1, which can help tumors evade immune system attack. Oncologists can figure out whether an anti-PD-L1 immunotherapy drug might work for a patient based on the amount of PD-L1 protein found in a tumor, but PD-L1 levels can be difficult to accurately detect. Researchers have now developed a new, better test to measure PD-L1 levels in early-stage breast cancer tumors. Anti-PD-L1 drugs are currently being tested in clinical trials with volunteer advanced breast cancer patients, and anti-PD-L1 drugs may soon also be tried in early-stage breast cancer patients.

“Yale Cancer Center researchers used a new molecular analysis tool to accurately detect the level of an important target for immunotherapy in early-stage breast cancers. The diagnostic test, using RNAScope, measures the amount of PD-L1 (programmed death ligand 1) mRNA in routine formalin-fixed cancer tissues and is devoid of many of the technical issues that plague antibody-based detection methods that have yielded conflicting results in the past. PD-L1 is the target of several novel immune stimulatory therapies in clinical trials. The findings were published in the Journal of Clinical Cancer Research in May.

“PD-L1 is a protein that plays an important role in suppressing immune response, and in cancer, it may allow tumors to evade immune attack. The study demonstrated that about 60 percent of early-stage breast cancers have PD-L1 expression, and a subset of these cancers also have large numbers of tumor infiltrating lymphocytes. High levels of lymphocytes and PD-L1 predicted for better survival, suggesting a beneficial role for the immune system in at least partially controlling these cancers.

” ‘This is exciting because these findings provide the rationale to test PD-L1 targeted therapies in breast cancer with the hope of further improving cure rates in early stage breast cancer,’ said Lajos Pusztai, MD, DPhil, professor of Medical Oncology and chief of Breast Medical Oncology at Smilow Cancer Hospital, Yale Cancer Center, and an author on the study. ‘Patients with many tumor infiltrating lymphocytes and high PD-L1 expression may be the ideal candidates for these therapies.’ “


Super Patient: Cancer Commons Helps Francesca Keep Fighting Pancreatic Cancer


Update:  We are deeply saddened to report that Francesca passed away on October 31, 2014. Her warmth, intelligence, and bravery will continue to inspire us. It is a privilege to share her story and keep her memory alive.

In 2011, Francesca knew something was wrong. Her stomach hurt and was upset after eating, and she just didn’t feel right. She had also lost a lot of weight, but thought that was normal, considering her life at the time. “I was working fulltime and had just stopped breastfeeding,” she explains. So when she went in for a checkup, she expected to hear it was a stomach problem. Continue reading…


ASCO 2014 Lung Cancer Roundup


Every year, thousands of people gather in Chicago, Illinois, for the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting. The largest meeting of its kind, ASCO brings together doctors, researchers, nurses, patient advocates, pharmaceutical company representatives, and more to discuss the latest in cancer research. Here are some of the most exciting new developments in lung cancer research presented last week at ASCO 2014: Continue reading…


Melanoma Treatment 2014: Emerging News


Immunotherapy may be patients’ biggest hope for transforming cancer treatment. This approach boosts a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer. More and more immunotherapy treatments are showing promise for more and more patients, and Science magazine named immunotherapies 2013’s Breakthrough of the Year. Continue reading…


Squamous Lung Cancer ‘Master Protocol’ Brings Cancer Research into the 21st Century


Clinical trials help determine whether new cancer treatments are safe and effective, and they provide access to cutting-edge drugs that patients wouldn’t otherwise be able to have. But the clinical trial system is notoriously inefficient, slow, expensive, and laborious. Now, a new and ambitious clinical trial design called the Lung Cancer Master Protocol seeks to overhaul the system, promising to benefit patients and drug companies alike. Continue reading…


Melanoma: A 2013 ‘Progress Report’


The past year saw some remarkable advances in melanoma clinical research and treatment. This feature explores the most notable melanoma news of 2013: Continue reading…


Immune System-Boosting Treatments Show Long-Sought Successes for Lung Cancer Patients


In the past 2 years, cancer treatments known as immune therapies have become all the rage. However, they have actually been explored for decades, particularly in melanoma, and have produced some notable successes. Now, immune therapies are showing more and more promise for lung cancer. Continue reading…


The Promising Landscape of New Treatments for Metastatic Melanoma


In the last few years, patients with the grim diagnosis of metastatic melanoma have gained reasons to feel more hopeful about their chances of beating the disease. Melanoma has become a poster child for new cancer treatment options, with several targeted and immune therapies approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and many more in clinical development. Continue reading…


Antagonist Antibodies to PD-1 and B7-H1 (PD-L1) in the Treatment of Advanced Human Cancer—Letter