A recent article from the BBC states that immunotherapy is transforming the treatment for cancer. Typically when a patient has cancer, it attacks their immune system. Certain tumours can still remain due to a protein called PD-L1, which will switch off the part of the immune system that attacks the tumours. New drugs have been developed to target these proteins so that the body can continue attacking the cancer.
The article notes that following a clinical trial consisting of 258 men with prostate cancer, one individual, aged 72, diagnosed in 2005, underwent treatment with chemotherapy and hormone based drugs which did not kill or treat the cancer. He was later given an immunotherapy drug called pembrolizumab and scan results showed that the tumour had become “undetectable”. He states that he is effectively “cancer-free”.
Researcher Prof Johann de Bono told the BBC: “This is the first evidence that a subset of prostate cancer patients do spectacularly well on immunotherapy”. He said that several patients have had “a complete response” and that the treatment “is a new arrow in the quiver for men with lethal prostate cancer”. He said that it is “a big deal for these patients.”
However, Prof de Bono said that only between 10% and 15% of patients have had any response to the therapy at all, so it may not be an approach that will help the majority of men. The article states that this is not unusual for immunotherapy, as it can work incredibly well for some patients, have only a temporary effect in others and do nothing for the remaining patients.
The team at the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital have seen evidence that the treatment works best in patients with the most heavily-mutated cancers.
Nell Barrie, from Cancer Research UK, said: “The next step will be to find out how to tell which men will benefit from taking this drug”.
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