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Immunotherapy drugs, which harness the power of the body’s immune system, are showing great potential as treatments for several types of cancer. And with the untimely death of award winning writer and restaurant critic, AA Gill in December 2017, the treatment has been widely discussed and debated in the national media. AA Gill’s final Sunday Times article gave an honest account of his treatment, detailing how the NHS could not give him a potentially life-extending cancer treatment – immunotherapy.
Much of this promise of immunotherapy has come from drugs that reveal cancer cells to our immune cells, allowing them to attack what they previously couldn’t see.
But while some patients respond well to these treatments, they don’t work for everyone. And for those patients that do respond, these drugs can have nasty side effects.
Thanks to funding from Stand Up To Cancer, researchers funded by CRUK are developing new experimental drugs that stop cancer cells being masters of disguise.
Our immune system is an immensely powerful defence against viruses and bacteria, and even cancer cells. But cancer cells can be crafty. They use certain molecules as a ‘cloak’ to disguise themselves from immune cells, tricking them into thinking they are normal cells, and not a threat.
One of the molecules that makes up the cancer’s ‘cloak’ is called PD-L1, which sticks to a protein called PD-1 on immune cells. Treatments have already been developed that stop PD-1 from sticking to the PD-L1 ‘cloak’, so the immune cells are no longer fooled by the cancer’s disguise.
The research team have also been using an experimental drug to block a molecule that helps make PD-1, called glycogen synthase kinase 3, or GSK3 and therefore kicking immune cells into action.
Researchers claim; “In mice, we found the immune cells became much more active when we blocked GSK3. The effect was much bigger than anything we had seen before so we were really excited!”
Now they have a drug that successfully stops PD-1 being made in mice, the next challenge is to see if the same occurs in people.
The journey to get drugs from the lab bench to the clinic takes time. While giving this drug to mice hasn’t caused any side effects yet, the next step is to make sure it’s safe for cancer patients.
Watch this space…