Cancer immunotherapy is the future of oncology, and the future is now. A decade ago the majority of mainstream oncologists believed the immune system is peripheral to cancer and does not influence outcome. The stunning remissions in patients with end stage lung cancer, melanoma, and renal cancer achieved by immune modulators called “checkpoint inhibitors” have given rise to 3 new FDA approved treatments for cancer, billion dollar market valuations for early stage companies, and a sense of “Gold Rush” when it comes to immuno-oncology.
Unfortunately, despite the excitement of the current revolution, narrow-minded thinking of Big Pharma chemistry is still being applied. While stunning successes are reported, these primarily occur in 20% of patients. This is more significant than previous approaches where no stunning successes were observed, but still leaves a lot of room for improvement. There will never be a “magic bullet”. Cancer compromises the immune system at different levels. A cancer treatment must therefore attack cancer at different levels.
Emvolio is developing products that can be used together to attack cancer at different levels, as well as to be used alone or in combination with existing therapies.
Cancer Treatment Vaccines
The use of cancer treatment (or therapeutic) vaccines is another approach to immunotherapy. These vaccines are usually made from a patient’s own tumor cells or from substances produced by tumor cells. They are designed to treat cancers that have already developed by strengthening the body’s natural defenses against the cancer.
In 2010, the FDA approved the first cancer treatment vaccine, sipuleucel-T (Provenge®), for use in some men with metastatic prostate cancer. Other therapeutic vaccines are being tested in clinical trials to treat a range of cancers, including brain, breast, and lung cancer.
In the past few years, the rapidly advancing field of cancer immunology has produced several new methods of treating cancer, called immunotherapies, which increase the strength of immune responses against tumors. Immunotherapies either stimulate the activities of specific components of the immune system or counteract signals produced by cancer cells that suppress immune responses.
These advances in cancer immunotherapy are the result of long-term investments in basic research on the immune system—research that continues today. Additional research is currently under way to:
- understand why immunotherapy is effective in some patients but not in others who have the same cancer
- expand the use of immunotherapy to more types of cancer
- increase the effectiveness of immunotherapy by combining it with other types of cancer treatment, such as targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy