One of the areas that has progressed quite a bit recently is that of tumor immunotherapy. At this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for Clinical Research, several papers have been presented in this area.
One of the most exciting is advances in lung cancer, which has been a traditionally hard to treat cancer. Recently there have been newer targeted therapies that work against growth factor receptors that show benefit, particularly in non-smokers. And now we’re seeing advances in immunotherapy.
Now, a fundamental breakthrough in immunology has come with understanding the controls of the immune cells that allows us augment the natural immune response that white cells have against tumors.
One of the proteins blocked is the PD-1 receptor and PD-1 ligand. These proteins are important because the cancer cells can use them to block the immune system from attacking the cancer. There are several drugs being tested that inhibit this blockade, the so-called immune checkpoint, in trials not only for lung cancer, but also melanoma and other solid tumors.
One of the potential benefits of one of these drugs called MK-3475 is that it may work in people who have a history of smoking, people who have traditionally not benefited from these targeted therapies.
There is also some new information that we may be able to identify patients who have the best chance of responding to these drugs. There will be a more formal comparison and information on how the drug works in smokers coming hopefully very soon. We expect to hear those results at the annual ASCO meeting this summer.
Debu Tripathy is an oncologist and editor-in-chief of CURE. He is the co-leader of the Women’s Cancer Program at Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center and Professor of Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.