The evolving role of immunotherapy in oncology

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Published: 1 Nov 2011
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Prof Gordon McVie; Prof Alexander Eggermont; Dr Kim Margolin; Prof Micheal Maio; Prof Thomas Lynch

During the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress in Stockholm the discussion was raised about the development of immunotherapy over the past few decades. Positive data in melanoma with ipilimumab - which has recently received Marketing Authorisation in Europe and the US - and data in other cancers, such as prostate and lung, has given hope to finding out how the immune system can be stimulated into a fundamental response. This is the key goal in breaking immune tolerance when a tumour grows and the body is capable of being tolerant of antigens; however, the question remains, how will this data change the treatment paradigm in these solid tumors?

The group discusses the history of immunotherapy, which began with success in melanoma and difficulties in lung cancer, but has been rejuvenated with much head way. The level of knowledge is at the point where the immune system can begin to recognize the tumour and the improvement in immune response. This comes from understanding how the tumour interacts with the immune system of the patient, thus allowing for a better strategy; to use the immune system to fight cancer cells. New drugs now show results where some agents have the ability to significantly increase the survival of patients. From here we ask, how do we now treat cancer with this information?

This programme was made possible with sponsorship from Bristol-Myers Squibb.