The new class of pharmaceuticals are showing promise in the treatment of some forms of cancer. The new class of drugs known as immunotherapies work by empowering the body’s immune system to fight against the tumor cells, slowing the effects and extending the lives of some cancer patients. According to the American Cancer Society immunotherapy, sometimes called biologic therapy or biotherapy, can be done in a couple of ways:
- Stimulating your own immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells
- Giving you immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins.[i]
Immunotherapy has been found to be an effective treatment for many types of cancer, and research is currently being conducted to further study the potential of these types of treatments. At present, there are 4 main ways that immunotherapy can be used to treat cancer, each working in a slightly different way to utilize the pre-existing protections offered by the immune system. The uses of immunotherapy treatments include:
- Monoclonal antibodies: These are man-made versions of immune system proteins. Antibodies can be very useful in treating cancer because they can be designed to attack a very specific part of a cancer cell.
- Immune checkpoint inhibitors: These drugs basically take the ‘brakes’ off the immune system, which helps it recognize and attack cancer cells.
- Cancer vaccines: Vaccines are substances put into the body to start an immune response against certain diseases. We usually think of them as being given to healthy people to help prevent infections. But some vaccines can help prevent or treat cancer.
- Other, non-specific immunotherapies: These treatments boost the immune system in a general way, but this can still help the immune system attack cancer cells.[ii]
As patients and doctors seek treatment options to combat cancer diagnosis, they are now seeking out the option of immunotherapy. Currently, there are treatments being tested and developed by major pharmaceutical companies, with each bring their own formula to the marketplace. Two of the major pharmaceutical companies, Merck & Co. and Bristol-Myers Squibb, have been working to produce their own immunotherapeutic compound, and are completing various clinical trials to determine the effectiveness of their formulations.[iii] Merck is expecting the FDA to review its application to combine its immune system-boosting drug Keytruda with chemotherapy as an initial therapy for advanced lung cancer, a decision that is expected on May 10th 2017.[iv] The emerging leader in cancer immunotherapy is Keytruda. Keytruda, manufactured by Merck has shown promising signs as a treatment for patients with mesothelioma cancer. The antibody drug has been used to treat melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, head and neck cancers, and now mesothelioma.[v] Merck's Keytruda alone is already approved as an initial, or first-line, treatment for advanced lung cancer in patients whose tumors have a high level of PD-L1 expression, the protein that the drug targets to help the immune system fight cancer.[vi] A recent report by Fox Business, according to the QuintilesIMS Institute, between 2005 and 2015 the pharmaceutical industry expanded research and development, opening up the pipeline of available cancer drug treatment by 63%, with numerous drug actually becoming available to those needing treatment options.[vii] See the chart below for information on the currently approved Cancer immunotherapy options and the cancers they target. REMEMBER: The available treatments are constantly changing. Please check back with us often for news and information on emerging treatment options to help combat cancer.
|Currently approved Cancer immunotherapy and their Targets [viii],[ix]|
|Antibody||Brand name||Type||Target||Approval date||Approved treatment(s)|
|Alemtuzumab||Campath||humanized||CD52||2001||B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL)[x]|
|Nivolumab||Opdivo||human||ligand activation of the programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) receptor on activated T cells||2014||unresectable or metastatic melanoma, squamous non-small cell lung cancer[xiv]|
|Pembrolizumab||Keytruda||humanized||programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) receptor||2014||metastatic melanoma[xv]|
|Rituximab||Rituxan, Mabthera||chimeric||CD20||1997||non-Hodgkin lymphoma[xvi]|
[i] "What Is Cancer Immunotherapy? | American Cancer Society", Cancer.Org, last modified 2016, accessed April 6, 2017, https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy/what-is-immunotherapy.html. [ii] "What Is Cancer Immunotherapy? | American Cancer Society", Cancer.Org, last modified 2016, accessed April 6, 2017, https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/immunotherapy/what-is-immunotherapy.html. [iii] Bill Berkrot and Ben Hirschler, "Merck Leapfrogs Rivals In Lung Cancer Drug Combination Race", Reuters: Health, last modified 2017, accessed April 6, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-merck-co-cancer-idUSKBN14U2T5. [iv] Ibid., Berkrot and Hirschler. [v] Merck Receives FDA Acceptance Of Supplemental Biologics License Application For KEYTRUDA® (Pembrolizumab) In Combination With Chemotherapy For First-Line Treatment Of Metastatic Non-Squamous Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer, 2017, accessed April 6, 2017, http://investors.merck.com/News/press-release-details/2017/Merck-Receives-FDA-Acceptance-of-Supplemental-Biologics-License-Application-for-KEYTRUDA-pembrolizumab-in-Combination-with-Chemotherapy-for-First-Line-Treatment-of-Metastatic-Non-Squamous-Non-Small-Cell-Lung-Cancer/default.aspx. [vi] Bill Berkrot and Ben Hirschler, "Merck Leapfrogs Rivals In Lung Cancer Drug Combination Race", Reuters: Health, last modified 2017, accessed April 6, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-merck-co-cancer-idUSKBN14U2T5. [vii] "New Cancer Drugs Show Success At A Steep Price", Fox Business, last modified 2017, accessed April 3, 2017, http://www.foxbusiness.com/features/2017/04/03/new-cancer-drugs-show-success-at-steep-price.html. [viii] Waldmann TA (Mar 2003). "Immunotherapy: past, present and future". Nature Medicine. 9 (3): 269–77. [ix] Scott AM, Wolchok JD, Old LJ (Apr 2012). "Antibody therapy of cancer". Nature Reviews. Cancer. 12 (4): 278–87. [x] Demko S, Summers J, Keegan P, Pazdur R (Feb 2008). "FDA drug approval summary: alemtuzumab as single-agent treatment for B-cell chronic lymphocytic leukemia". The Oncologist. 13 (2): 167–74. [xi] " U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), FDA Approves New, Targeted Treatment For Bladder Cancer Tecentriq Is The First PD-L1 Inhibitor Approved By The FDA, 2016, accessed April 6, 2017, https://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm501762.htm [xii] Pazdur R. "FDA approval for Ipilimumab". Retrieved 7 November 2013. [xiii] Lemery SJ, Zhang J, Rothmann MD, Yang J, Earp J, Zhao H, McDougal A, Pilaro A, Chiang R, Gootenberg JE, Keegan P, Pazdur R (Sep 2010). "U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval: ofatumumab for the treatment of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia refractory to fludarabine and alemtuzumab". Clinical Cancer Research. 16 (17): 4331–8. [xiv] Sharma P, Allison JP (Apr 2015). "The future of immune checkpoint therapy". Science. 348 (6230): 56–61 [xv] Ibid. [xvi] James JS, Dubs G (Dec 1997). "FDA approves new kind of lymphoma treatment. Food and Drug Administration". AIDS Treatment News (284): 2–3. [xvii] Casak SJ, Lemery SJ, Shen YL, Rothmann MD, Khandelwal A, Zhao H, Davis G, Jarral V, Keegan P, Pazdur R (2011). "U.S. Food and drug administration approval: rituximab in combination with fludarabine and cyclophosphamide for the treatment of patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia". The Oncologist. 16 (1): 97–104.
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