New cancer drugs help the body fight cancer by using the immune system says the NY Times.
A new class of cancer fighting drugs aims to help the body help itself. By having the body recognize cancer cells, the way it recognizes bacteria, the need for damaging chemo therapy can be eliminated. Read about the newly developing science behind using the immune system to battle cancer.
Promising New Cancer Drugs Empower the Body’s Own Defense System
Published: June 3, 2013
CHICAGO — The early success of a new class of cancer drugs, revealed in test results released here over the last several days, has raised hope among the world’s top cancer specialists that they may be on the verge of an important milestone in the fight against the disease.
The excitement has spread to Wall Street. Shares of Merck and Bristol-Myers Squibb, which are developing such drugs, rose more than 3 percent on Monday after data from their studies was presented over the weekend at the meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
The drugs, still generally in early testing, work in an entirely new way, by unleashing the immune system to attack cancer cells much as it attacks bacteria. That could be an alternative to often-debilitating chemotherapy.
Finding ways to use the body’s own defenses has been a goal since the late 1800s, when a New York surgeon named William B. Coley noticed that cancer disappeared in a patient who had a severe bacterial infection.
He then began injecting bacteria into cancer patients to rev up their immune systems. His claims of success were disputed and most attempts since then to harness the immune system have not worked.
The new drugs work by disabling a brake on the immune system called the programmed death 1 receptor, or PD-1. And although the data presented at the meeting was from the earliest stage of testing only, the drugs were the center of attention here, with some doctors predicting that cancer treatment was about to shift.
“If you look five years out, most of this meeting will be about immunotherapy,” said Dr. Mario Sznol, a professor of medical oncology at Yale.