Immunotherapy harnesses the body’s immune system to fight off certain cancers. It has received praise and attention in recent years. Breakthrough treatments for melanoma and other cancers have shown startling results, giving some patients months and often years of life they almost certainly would not otherwise have had.
Unfortunately, immunotherapies have not produced such successful results for a majority of patients.
The same drug that causes metastatic melanoma to vanish in one patient might have no effect on another. At best, only one or two patients out of five will respond to immunotherapy treatments. Although these numbers are remarkable compared to past standards, they are still considerably lower than anyone would like.
New research explores the molecular mechanisms that prevent immunotherapy drugs from working in some patients. Researchers are hopeful that the findings will help make the treatments more effective over time.
Researchers studied why certain tumors were able to evade immunotherapies designed to unleash the body’s defenses to fight cancer. Tumors with a high concentration of “T cells” were found to be more responsive to treatments. Conversely, tumors with a low number of T cells were far less responsive to the new drugs.
By using human and mouse models, researchers experimented with specific drugs aimed at helping generate more T cells within a tumor in an effort to make it more responsive to immunotherapy. This approach appears to have promise.
Immunotherapies have become a pillar of cancer treatment recently. Researchers are also testing the new drugs in combination with one another and with other therapies.
The current obstacle is that some cancers have proved less susceptible to immunotherapies and some patients have fared far better than others. If researchers are able to engineer ways to make game-changing immunotherapies effective in more patients, that would be a breakthrough.
The new question is how to make responders more responsive and how to make non-responders responsive.