The immune system typically attacks what doesn´t belong in the body. But cancer cells have ways to dodge, shut down or even overpower an immune attack. So, what if you could engineer the immune system to weaponize it against cancer?
Medicon Village members are breaking new ground with five promising approaches to treat cancer
The scientific breakthrough of immunotherapy redefines the possible by becoming more effective, more precise and more personalized than current cancer treatments (surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy). Medicon Village members do revolutionary work in the field. With a host of new findings and drugs in the pipeline, they are at the forefront of beating cancer with immunotherapy.
Immunotherapy, or immuno-oncology, uses the body´s immune system to fight cancer. It does so by boosting the immune system´s ability to recognise and attack cancer. And there are many promising approaches on the market or studied in clinical trials. Some are mentioned below.
Inhibitors block infiltrators
Checkpoints are proteins on some immune cells that act as an ´off-switch´ of an immune response – preventing it from being too strong. Cancer cells can turn the switch off and thereby hide from an attack. However, scientists have designed checkpoint inhibitors. These inhibitors block the switch and boost the immune cells, which now attack cancer cells.
Viral attack sparks explosion
Cancer targeting viruses show promise to treat cancer for several reasons. One includes that cancer has a weakened antiviral defense and is prone to infection. Another that virus causes cancer cellsto burst. The dying cells release surface markers, so called antigens, which alerts the immune system and triggers an immune response that attacks other cancer cells.
Strategies weaponize killer cells
Killer T cells, the ninja warriors of the immune system, are particularly effective against cancer, as they bind to surface markers on the cancer cells. So called adoptive cell therapy boosts the natural ability of the killer T cells to fight cancer. One approach involves selecting the body´s most active T cells and expand their numbers. Another approach involves genetically re-programming the T cells to enhance their cancer fighting skills.
Antibodies activate target missiles
Cancer cells can hide their surface markers from the immune system – dodging an attack. Antibodies are proteins that binds to the markers. And now, scientists can tailor antibodies against cancer specific markers. The
antibodies then tag the cancer cells, turning the immune system into target missiles attacking cancer.
Cancer vaccines trigger attack
Vaccines may help prevent cancer or trigger an attack against existing cancer. The preventive vaccines target the virus leading to cancer. The cancer treatment vaccines mount an attack against cancer cells. These vaccines recognise proteins on particular cancer cells.
Lund university researchers and companies seated at Medicon Village are dramatically changing the landscape of immunotherapy. This includes:
- Researching tumour related signalling pathways or interaction with surrounding immune microenvironment that affects clinical response to immunotherapy.
- Developing antibodybased pharmaceuticals for cancer treatment with focus on tumour-directed immunotherapies, in particular agonistic mono- and bispecific antibodies.
- Developing a cancer therapy that targets metastatic cells to prevent cancer recurrence and progression after primary tumour therapy.
- Developing a peptide drug that blocks a suppressor of the natural immune system, thereby reactivating the ability to attack and kill tumours.
- Collaborating between industry, healthcare, and academia to strengthen and accelerate innovations and clinical implementation in oncology.
Do you want to know more about research that have recently received funding? Read more about the awards from Mats Paulssons Foundation for Research, Innovation and Societal Development (in Swedish).
Written by: Tanja Jensen, Science Writer
Photo: Viktor Holm