Immunotherapy – new promise for some patients

According to the American Cancer Society, in the last 10 years, there’s been a lot of progress in the treatment of childhood cancers. Since the mid-1970s, survival rates have increased from 60% to 90% for certain cancers.

Many pediatric cancer patients respond well to standard treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.  But for some children treatment stops working and for others, standard treatments are not effective, leaving few other treatment options for these children.

The good news is that the rapid developments in immunotherapy could offer great promise for many children battling cancer. Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.

Cancer cells play a proverbial “hide-and-seek” game with the body by concealing themselves from the immune system, convincing the body that they actually belong. This gives the cancer cells the ability to grow without any interruption. What immunotherapies do is teach the body to fight cancer by activating the immune system to recognize cancer as a foreign intruder amongst the healthy cells, stopping them from growing and killing existing cells.

At the front of the pack is an immunotherapy called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy. This approach involves removing immune cells from the patient and re-engineering the T-cells in a lab to arm them with new proteins which are able to recognize and destroy cancer cells. These modified cells are infused back into the patient in large numbers. Once inside the body, the CAR T-cells should make more CAR T-cells, becoming living drugs.

For more information visit the American Cancer Society’s 3-part series on the recent developments and ongoing research in immunotherapy for childhood cancers.