Vaccine Shows Promising Results for Early-Stage Breast Cancer Patients

Excerpt:

“Immunotherapy is a fast growing area of cancer research. It involves developing therapies that use a patient’s own immune system to fight and kill cancer. Moffitt Cancer Center is working on a new vaccine that would help early-stage breast cancer patients who have HER2 positive disease.

“The HER2 protein is overexpressed in nearly 25 percent of all breast cancer tumors and is associated with aggressive disease and poor prognosis. Moffitt researchers, led by physician-scientist Brian J. Czerniecki, M.D., Ph.D., have previously shown that immune cells are less able to recognize and target cancer cells that express HER2 as breast cancer progresses into a more advanced and invasive stage.  This suggests that strategies that can restimulate the immune system to recognize and target HER2 early during cancer development may be effective treatment options.”

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Roche's New-Drug Strategy Buoyed by Lung-Cancer Study

Excerpt:

“Swiss drugmaker Roche Holding AG, seeking to expand uses for its drug Tecentriq beyond bladder cancer, said on Thursday a study had shown the new immunotherapy helped people with lung cancer live longer than with chemotherapy.

“The world’s biggest maker of cancer drugs is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of Tecentriq for advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer as early as October. It won the regulator’s blessing in May for its use in bladder cancer.

“The FDA has already granted the medicine accelerated review.”

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Chance Collaboration Yields an Advance in Cancer Treatment

Excerpt:

“A collaboration between an immunologist helping his stepmother fight cancer and the oncologist who treated her led to a discovery that could help many more patients benefit from a transformative new therapy.

“A new class of drugs called checkpoint inhibitors works by releasing a molecular brake that stops the immune system from attacking tumors. So-called immunotherapy has been approved for several types of cancers and found to extend lives of patients with advanced disease for many years. The problem is that for most patients immunotherapy doesn’t work.

“The researchers, from University of California, San Francisco, said they identified a unique type of immune-system cell that ‘robustly’ predicts whether patients will respond to one of the medicines—an achievement has the potential to significantly expand the number of cancer patients who benefit from checkpoint inhibitors.”

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Immune Analysis of On-Treatment Longitudinal Biopsies Predicts Response to Melanoma Immunotherapy

Excerpt:

“Immune response measured in tumor biopsies during the course of early treatment predicts which melanoma patients will benefit from specific immune checkpoint blockade drugs, researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center report in the journal Cancer Discovery.

“Analysis of biopsies before treatment did not indicate who would respond in this unique longitudinal study of 53 melanoma patients treated with two immune checkpoint inhibitors between October 2011 and March 2015.

” ‘Before treatment, analyzing samples with a 12-marker immune panel or a 795-gene expression panel, you can’t tell who will respond with any degree of certainty. On treatment, there were night-and-day differences between responders and non-responders,’ said study senior author Jennifer Wargo, M.D., associate professor of Genomic Medicine and Surgical Oncology.”

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What Is Immunotherapy? The Basics on These Cancer Treatments

Excerpt:

“Some of the most promising advances in cancer research in recent years involve treatments known as immunotherapy. These advances are spurring billions of dollars in investment by drug companies, and are leading to hundreds of clinical trials. Here are answers to some basic questions about this complex and rapidly evolving field.

“Immunotherapy refers to any treatment that uses the immune system to fight diseases, including cancer. Unlike chemotherapy, which kills cancer cells, immunotherapy acts on the cells of the immune system, to help them attack the cancer.

“Drugs called checkpoint inhibitors are the most widely used form of immunotherapy for cancer. They block a mechanism that cancer cells use to shut down the immune system. This frees killer T-cells — a critically important part of the immune system — to attack the tumor. Four checkpoint inhibitors have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are on the market. They are given intravenously.”

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Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Cancer

Excerpt:

“Steve Cara expected to sail through the routine medical tests required to increase his life insurance in October 2014. But the results were devastating. He had lung cancer, at age 53. It had begun to spread, and doctors told him it was inoperable.

“A few years ago, they would have suggested chemotherapy. Instead, his oncologist, Dr. Matthew D. Hellmann of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, recommended an experimental treatment: immunotherapy. Rather than attacking the cancer directly, as chemo does, immunotherapy tries to rally the patient’s own immune system to fight the disease.

“Uncertain, Mr. Cara sought a second opinion. A doctor at another major hospital read his scans and pathology report, then asked what Dr. Hellmann had advised. When the doctor heard the answer, Mr. Cara recalled, ‘he closed up the folder, handed it back to me and said, ‘Run back there as fast as you can.’ ”

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I Thought Melanoma Would Kill Me. Here's Why It Didn't.

Excerpt:

“Several months ago, my wife, Françoise, and I attended something novel for melanoma patients: a survivors’ dinner. People said they wanted to make it an annual gathering. Planning anything that far in advance had been pointless for me. Two years ago, I was about to accept hospice care.

“When I was diagnosed in 1996, very early surgery was the only reliably successful treatment. A more advanced case was essentially a death sentence. Over the past five years, a series of revolutionary drugs have given me and many other people a surprisingly hopeful prospect. Nevertheless, the drugs’ development process has often been excruciating for participants in clinical trials, and the drugs’ remarkably high costs limit their value.”

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Here Are Some Ways Cancer Can Thwart the New Immunotherapy Drugs

Excerpt:

“A new type of cancer drug designed to unleash the immune system is revolutionizing treatment for advanced melanoma, lung cancer and other malignancies. But some patients who initially respond to the therapy relapse, and researchers are anxious to figure out how and why the delayed resistance occurs.

” ‘Does the immune system stop working, or does the cancer change so that it’s no longer responding to the immune system?’ said Antoni Ribas, director of the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center Tumor Immunology Program at the University of California at Los Angeles.

“New research by Ribas and others, published online Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, provides some answers. The study, which outlines key mechanisms in how melanoma becomes resistant to immunotherapy, found that genetic changes in tumors allowed them to avoid recognition by the immune system or become less sensitive to its attacks.”

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More Cancer Mutations May Be Good for Immunotherapy Patients

Excerpt:

“Mark Perkins considers himself a poster child for the new generation of cancer drugs that harness the patient’s immune system to attack sick cells. Two years after trying Merck & Co.’s Keytruda — and almost four years after receiving a prognosis of as little as six months left to live — he is cancer free.

“The 56-year-old grandfather’s case is more than a success story for a new class of treatments that have fewer side effects than standard chemotherapy. It’s also at the frontier of what could possibly lead to a new approach to treating cancer, if it turns out that patients who, like Perkins, have many more mutations in their tumors than the average have a better chance of responding to immunotherapy.

“Drugs like Keytruda, known as checkpoint inhibitors, have produced dramatic responses in some advanced cancer patients, but doctors still don’t understand why only about 20 percent gain long-term survival. Researchers say looking at the mutation load for answers makes scientific sense, because these drugs work by taking the brakes off the immune system’s killer T-cells, unleashing them to go after cancerous cells. In theory, the more mutations a cancer has, the more foreign it will appear to the newly enhanced immune cells.”

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