Ayse Molla Chasan

4 min read

Immunotherapy: introduction to a revolution in the fight against cancer


Cancer is the second leading cause of death globally, accounting for an estimated 9.6 million deaths, or one in every six deaths. The burden of cancer continues to grow globally, exerting tremendous physical, emotional, and financial strain on individuals, families, communities as well as healthcare systems.

However, lately, there have been more promises: Almost every day, new reports of the increased positive results of immunotherapy are released. Many cancer patients have already benefited from this procedure and have shown promising signs of remission. There's no denying that the procedure opens up new possibilities in medical research and various other practices within life science.

However, the most critical question is: what are the benefits and risks of this therapy and why is it not common in practice?

As one of the leading causes of death worldwide, cancer isranked second after cardiovascular diseases. This is partly the reason why Cancer immunotherapy is a quickly emerging field that is considered the fifth pillar of cancer treatment, entering the ranks of surgery, cytotoxic chemotherapy, radiation, and targeted therapy as a promising and revolutionary approach to cancer research. **

This stems from the fact that cancer cells express tumor antigens that can be detected and potentially eliminated by our very own immune system. Immunotherapy is an approach used to remove the tumor mass through the activation of the immune system against tumor cells. This can be achieved in two different ways; either by directly targeting tumor antigens, or passively by enhancing existing anti-tumor responses.

Immunotherapy implies that the body's own immune system plays a key role in the battle to fight cancer, however, our immune system is extremely complex and works with control mechanisms that we are only now beginning to understand. Intruders such as viruses, bacteria, and even cancerous cells can be recognized and eliminated by these immune system cells. The so-called T-cells play a captivating role here: They trigger a controlled immune response that is powerful enough to eliminate all harmful cells while causing minimal damage to the body's healthy cells. The activity of the T-cells is controlled by immune molecules, which have either a stimulatory or inhibitory effect on the immune cells and exert an effect precisely at those sites where the T-cells interact with cancerous cells. The sites where these interactions take place are called immune checkpoints.

Each T-cell has hundreds of such checkpoints and uses them to routinely investigate the molecules of other cells to verify their identity. If all immune checkpoints register endogenous, i.e., immunosuppressive molecules, the T-cell remains in resting mode. It is activated, however, as soon as the first immune checkpoints identify harmful molecules. The force of the immune response increases relative to the number of immune checkpoints sounding the alarm simultaneously per T cell. As a result, it can be concluded that the immune system, specific T-cells, are capable of fighting cancer tissue.

Cancer immunotherapy has revolutionized oncology by showing tremendous recovery rates with lethal cancers. As these therapies place themselves as the first line for several cancer indications, the number of patients qualified for immune-based cancer treatments continues to grow. Immunotherapy's importance in cancer care can only grow in the coming decades as new treatment combinations are discovered. However, science cannot yet predict which types of immunotherapy are appropriate for which patients or which cancers they are eligible to treat. This problem, like the efficacy and success of treatment in each individual, is determined by molecular mechanisms that are still largely unknown.

Equally weighty are questions about the therapeutic substances themselves: How exactly they act on the immune system is not yet well understood. Many questions still need to be answered. It took many years of basic science discoveries and subsequent clinical translation to unequivocally demonstrate the power of modulating the immune system to treat cancer.

As research is ever-speeding up while also becoming more geographically dispersed, knowledge sharing and cooperative research has never been more important for research and development. The progress of immunotherapy research is no exception to this phenomenon. Form an idea to the market, drug/treatment development can take up to 10 years.

One of the ways to cut this time is to cooperate and share findings, in which access to a network of world-class experts like Knowledge Gate’s platform proves to be significantly helpful. Replacing a lengthy onboarding and due diligence process, companies have the chance to find answers to their most pressing questions within a matter of days from KOLs around the world. In the case of immunotherapy, shared knowledge and access to alternative sources could allow us to enhance the power of this successful approach in fighting one of humanity’s most dreaded diseases.