Cancers grow and spread because tumor cells have developed ways to evade elimination by the immune system. For example, cancer cells make proteins that apply the “brakes” to immune cells and prevent the immune cells from killing the tumor cells. One of the most exciting recent discoveries in cancer therapy has been the identification of ways to release these “brakes” and allow immune cells to once again kill tumor cells. This new approach, like traditional therapies, has the potential of not only reducing tumor growth, but potentially eliminating the cancer entirely in some patients.

Anti-tumor immunity often involves interactions between extracellular proteins that are not easily modulated with small molecule drugs and so many researchers are focused on discovering and developing novel protein therapeutics using newly identifying targets.

What is Immuno-oncology?

Immuno-oncology is an innovative area of research that aims to enhance the body’s ability to fight cancer using its own immune system.

How does the body’s immune system help fight cancer?

The immune system (the body’s internal method of defense against disease) is a network of biological structures (organs, cells, and molecules) and processes throughout the body. The role of the immune system is to protect the body against a wide variety of harmful agents known as pathogens, such as bacterium, virus, or other microorganisms that can cause disease, by distinguishing between healthy tissue and harmful cells. Upon finding a foreign substance, such as germs, viruses, or cancer cells, the immune response is activated.

When cancerous cells form in the body, the immune system works to find and fight the cancer by activating an immune response. The immune response involves several different types of cells, including a type of white blood cell called a T cell. These cells work to find and destroy abnormal cancer cells.

How do Immuno-oncology treatments work?

Normally, the immune response works like it’s supposed to and seeks to find and destroy cancerous cells. Sometimes though, cancer cells can undergo changes in order to escape the body’s ability to attack them, allowing cancerous cells to grow and spread. Immuno-oncology research is looking at how to work with the immune system so that immune responses can work as they should. As a result, the immune response, including T cells, may be able to do its job of destroying cancer cells.

What is the difference between immunotherapy and Immuno-oncology?

You may have heard of immunotherapy, which refers to treatments that use the immune system to combat diseases. Immunotherapy includes vaccines, allergy treatments, and more. Immuno-oncology is a type of immunotherapy that has the specific purpose of treating cancer.

What are the different types of immuno-oncology treatments?

  • Biological response modifiers (BRMs)
  • Nonspecific immunomodulating agents
  • Interferons (IFN)
  • Interleukins (IL)
  • Colony-stimulating factors (CSFs)
  • Monoclonal antibodies
  • Vaccine therapy

When diagnosed with advanced melanoma cancer, Chris Simpson chose to participate in novel immuno-therapy treatments. In the above video, he discusses his treatment and its outcome. More than 170 patients have received similar immuno-oncology vaccines.