According to doctors, the cancer is all about metastatic disease. The primary tumor can be cut out but it’s the metastatic disease the kills patients. That is why despite medical breakthroughs, doctors still haven’t found a way to eliminate cancer.
Immunotherapy is a relatively new form of cancer treatment that boosts and redirects the immune system to kill cancer. Tumor immunology was pioneered in the early 1990s.
The idea of immunotherapy is that the immune system has evolved not just to fight infectious diseases but it has also evolved to recognize tumor cells and eliminate them.
Doctors have discovered a powerful bacterium called listeria that could help the immune systems recognize cancer cells as abnormal.
Listeria is a type of bacteria that can cause food poisoning and other symptoms like fever and muscle aches.
Dr. Yvonne Paterson, an associate dean at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing, genetically modifies listeria and uses it to “infect” cancer cells. By doing this, the immune system is fooled into thinking the cancer cells are infected with the bacteria and need to be eliminated.
At the same time, the immune system also learns to associate newly developed tumor cells with listeria so it can continue to kill and prevent metastatic tumor cells from developing.
Dr. Paterson is eager to start clinical trials and founded Advaxis, a biotechnology company that is developing multiple cancer immunotherapies based on her research. Advaxis is currently working on treatments for human papillomavirus (HPV)- associated cancers like cervical cancer, head and neck cancer and anal cancer as well as osteosarcoma (a bone cancer), breast cancer, prostate cancer and others.
The lead investigator on the Advaxis head and neck trial at Mount Sinai Hospital claims the the early data looks promising that there have been some immune response to the tumors.
Trials for osteosarcoma have also shown hopeful results in dogs.
Advaxis plans to begin Phase 1 of their HER2/neu cancer immunotherapy trial in breast cancer in early 2015.