A New Line Of Attack
- The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust just announced a joint research strategy that they hope could boost the survival rate for people with advanced cancers.
- The scientists are trying a new approach to target cancer by disrupting what they call the cancer ecosystem and working on advancing research in the immunotherapy space and opening “new lines of attack” against cancer.
- The current wave of progress has been in immunotherapy, which is a relatively new type of cancer treatment, harnesses the power of the immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells.
- Future major leaps forward are likely to occur through work on genetic targets for new medications, with actual manipulation of cells at the genetic level, and perhaps from vaccines and medicines developed using mRNA
- People looking to access these treatments earlier may be able to enroll in a clinical trial. You can search here for trials which might your cancer: https://www.survivornet.com/clinical-trial-finder/
The joint research strategy was launched this week by the Institute of Cancer Research of London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. The five-year research strategy “plans to unravel and disrupt cancer ecosystems – by directing research against the cells, signals and immune response in the tissue environment that nurtures tumours,” said the ICR.Read More
The strategy to identify cancer’s reliance on the ecosystems of our body’s cells and signals is a new approach to cancer research and one the scientists are very excited to begin.
“Our leading scientists and clinicians have identified cancer’s evolution within a complex ecosystem as a major challenge and opportunity for the next five years,” says Professor Kristian Helin, Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research, London, in a statement.
“We have created a really exciting plan to unravel and disrupt cancer’s ecosystems, with new immunotherapies, drugs to target the tissue environment, and clever new anti-evolution combinations and dosing strategies,” she continued.
According to reporting from the Guardian: “One strategy they plan to deploy is breaking the ability of cancer cells to instruct other cells to come to support them. For instance, cancer cells sometimes send signals to the bone marrow, instructing “slave cells” to create “nests” in other parts of the body where cancer cells could migrate to and set up secondary tumours. Interrupting these systems would help stop cancer spreading.”
Separately, the experts say they plan to open new lines of attack against cancer, “so we can overcome cancer’s deadly ability to evolve and become resistant to treatment,” says Dr Olivia Rossanese, Director of Cancer Drug Discovery at The Institute of Cancer Research, London.
“We want to discover better targets within tumours and the wider ecosystem that we can attack with drugs. We’re finding powerful new ways to eradicate cancer proteins completely and discovering smarter combination treatments that attack cancer on multiple fronts. Together, this three-pronged approach can create smarter, kinder cancer treatments, and offer patients longer life with fewer side effects.”
Another tactic will be doing more research into immunotherapy, which has been a revolutionary for treatment of some cancers. But as the experts point out immunotherapy doesn’t work for all patients or cancer types.
Professor Kevin Harrington, at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Consultant Clinical Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, says he believes there are “huge opportunities” to use a combination of immunotherapy and other treatments to disrupt the cancer ecosystem.
The goal will be to favor the immune system and making the environment “inhospitable to cancer cells and favourable for elements of the immune system that can attack them, so that we can make the disease extinct within the body,” said Harrington.
Dr. Jim Allison, Chair of the Department of Immunology at MD Anderson Cancer Center was the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. He previously told SurvivorNet that the next big wave of research of ways to treat cancer is likely to involve combining immunotherapy with targeted drugs.
Dr. Allison talked about the effectiveness of combining immunotherapy as a complementary treatment to traditional “targeted” therapies like chemotherapy and radiation for many types of cancer. Simply put, he says: “We now know it works… and so it’s something out there that can offer patients a bit of hope.”
For decades, Dr. Allison has researched ways to harness the immune system to fight cancer. As the Nobel Committee said of Dr. Allison’s work, he has, “…established an entirely new principle for cancer therapy.”
That principle, Dr. Allison explains, is about allowing the body’s T-cells (an important part of the body’s natural immune system) to fight the cancerous tumors.
“The one that I developed is called Checkpoint Therapy because…we identified these brakes on the immune system and figured out how to use those to keep T-cells that are in your body going and generate big numbers…of T-cells that’ll kill cancer cells,” he said.
Separately, Dr. Steven Rosenberg, Chief of Surgery at the National Cancer Institute is a pioneer in immunotherapy research. It’s already proved enormously effective in treating several cancers, but it doesn’t work for everyone, as the scientists of the new strategy point out.
“Using a patient’s own immune cells is a very complex way to treat a cancer,” said Dr. Rosenberg. His team has developed methods for genetically modifying a patient’s own immune cells “to recognize the cancer in a new way” and to kill it.
Looking Ahead: mRNA Vaccines
A treatment option that is relatively new and could break ground in the coming years is the development of mRNA vaccines for melanoma. Researchers predict that these vaccines may help prevent the progression of melanoma, and could possibly change the landscape of treatment for other cancers.
Messenger RNA vaccines (mRNA) differ from traditional vaccines in that they don’t contain dead or weakened viruses. Instead, they use pieces of genetic code to help the body produce an immune response against a specific virus or disease.
An example of mRNA vaccines currently in use is the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines. These vaccines protect against the COVID virus, which can cause potentially severe respiratory illness.
mRNA vaccines are still in development, so it’s difficult to say for certain how they might be used to treat melanoma. However, there are a few potential ways they may help:
- As a preventative measure: One possibility is that mRNA vaccines could be given as a preventative measure for people who are at a high risk of developing melanoma. This could include people with a family history of the disease.
- To help stop the progression of melanoma: Another possibility is that mRNA vaccines could help stop the progression of melanoma in patients who have already been diagnosed. This could include using the vaccine in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
- To help prevent metastasis: Finally, mRNA vaccines may help prevent metastasis in patients who have already been treated for melanoma. Metastasis is the spread of cancer cells from the original site to other parts of the body.
Contributors: SurvivorNet Staff