Checkpoint inhibitors are man-made antibodies that shut down key proteins on immune cells such as PD-L1 that, when turned on, can give cancer a free pass to spread. Given intravenously, these immunotherapy drugs essentially wake up the immune system and encourage it to recognize the protein and attack it. Because these drugs are aimed at a specific target, there are fewer side effects than chemotherapy.
When these drugs work, they work well. But they don’t work for everyone–at least not yet. They have been shown to improve survival in smokers with lung cancers that express high amounts of PD-L1. However, they did not work well in lung cancer patients who never smoked. Cancer researchers are now looking at ways to harness checkpoint inhibitors so that they work in even more people.Read More