Immunotherapy is a breakthrough innovation in Cancer Care. Immunotherapy is the process of activating the immune cells to fight against cancer cells. It is a personalized treatment which intends to enhance the body’s defense mechanism to combat and destroy cancer cells. Immunotherapy uses the cells made by the patient’s own body, or treatments made in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function.
The reprogramming of the immune system in a patient’s body is done through three ways, personalized to the specific cancer condition, namely – Drug therapy, Dendritic cell therapy and Cancer Vaccines. In the first type, the drugs induced boost the antibodies to destroy cancer cells. Dendritic cell therapy involves the usage of T-cells, the cells which fight infection, are removed from the blood, later modified in laboratory and injected to the patient’s body to treat cancer cells. Cancer vaccines when injected, triggers the immune system to recognize and destroy that antigen or related materials, thus killing the cancer cells and put an end to their progress.
The purpose of cancer-targeting immunotherapy is to modify the immune system to recognize that the cancer is foreign to the body and needs to be attacked. This can be difficult, because the differences between cancer cells and healthy cells are often quite small and hard to detect.
Additionally, white blood cells have “immune checkpoint” molecules that alert cells to either “engage and fight” or “ignore and rest” when it recognizes something in the body as being foreign. The checkpoint molecules prevent our immune system from attacking normal cells. Drugs called checkpoint inhibitors block these molecules, allowing the immune cells to start attacking cancer cells.
One type of immune checkpoint inhibitor works by interfering with a molecular “brake” known as PD-1 or PD-L1 that prevents the body’s immune system from attacking cancer cells. Drugs in this category currently approved are Nivolumab (Opdyta), Atezolizumab (Tecentriq), Pembrolizumab (Keytruda), Avelumab (Bavencio) and Durvalumab (Imfinzi).
Another type of immune checkpoint inhibitor seeks out and locks onto CTLA-4 (cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein 4), a protein that normally helps keep immune system cells (T-cells) in check. The drug Ipilimumab (Yervoy) is thought to help the immune system destroy cancer cells by blocking the action of CTLA-4.
In addition to checkpoint inhibitors, immunotherapy approaches fall into the following main categories:
Immunotherapies can sometimes work well in combination with other treatment types, such as surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and targeted therapy (treatments designed to target the specific cell mechanisms that are important for the growth and survival of cancer cells). An example is combining immune checkpoint inhibitors with targeted therapy or traditional chemotherapy.