1 CANCER IMMUNOTHERAPY
Treatments that harness the inherent powers of the immune system to fight cancer are hailed as the most promising new treatment approach, since the development of chemotherapies in the late 1940s.
The process selectively targets and kills cancerous cells, without damaging healthy ones, meaning fewer side effects. Recent experimental research into CAR T-Cell therapy on patients, with acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, found that the symptoms in 94% of participants with this blood cancer completely disappeared.
The approach is universal, and can be used to treat almost all cancers. The ability of the immune system to ‘remember’ means that immunotherapy could also offer long-term protection against cancer.
Nanotechnology is one of the hottest new areas of medicine, based on microscopic particles, with distinctive properties related to their chemical structure, mobility, and ability to absorb energy.
In South Australia, nanotech ‘smart packages’ – delivered with chemotherapy drugs – have been found to target and destroy cancer cells, while reducing side effects.
The minuscule ‘trojan horse’ vehicles are 100 nanometres in diameter, and contain folate molecules which find and attach themselves to cancer cells. Anti-cancer drugs in the smart packages are then released, killing cells in the process.
3 TARGETED MEDICINES
These interfere with the specific molecules – molecular targets – that are needed for tumours to grow, progress and spread. As a monotherapy, targeted medicines are already a formidable addition to the cancer-fighting arsenal.
Therapies act on specific molecular targets, associated with cancer, and are deliberately selected to interact with their target, without destroying surrounding healthy cells.
They do have their limitations however – one of which is the risk of cancer cells becoming resistant to the treatment, for example through mutation. Which brings us on to combination therapies.
4 CANCER COMBINATIONS
Combination therapy has been a hallmark of cancer treatment for years, as a way of killing cancer cells and halting the progression of the disease.
Earlier this year, research on 257 women showed that the combination of two drugs – lapatinib and trastuzumab – could shrink, or even eliminate, breast cancer tumours in 11 days. Around a quarter of women with aggressive HER2 positive breast cancer benefitted.
Professor Nigel Bundred, Professor of Surgical Oncology at the University Hospital of South Manchester, said: “This has ground-breaking potential.”
The HPV (human papilloma virus) vaccination, which protects against cervical cancer, is already widely offered to 12 and 13-year-old girls, as part of the NHS childhood vaccination programme.
A unique phase one trial is now underway to test a new cancer vaccine, designed to harness the power of the immune system to destroy tumours, wherever they are in the body. The trial will run over the next two years and involve up to 30 volunteers.
The vaccine contains a small fragment of protein from an enzyme called ‘human telomerase reverse transcriptase (hTERT)’. This enzyme allows cancer cells to continuously divide.
By injecting the antigen into the patient, along with a low dose of a chemotherapy drug, it is hoped the immune system response will be stimulated, making antibodies that will kill cancer cells, but leave healthy cells alone.
Facts and stats:
14.1 million people a year worldwide are diagnosed with cancer
8.2 million of those will die
That is one person every 4 seconds dies
Deaths from cancer are expected to double by 2030*
2.5 million people in the UK have cancer
Over 300,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year
Over 160,000 people a year die of cancer
Breast, prostate, lung and bowel cancers together accounted for over half of all new cancer cases in the UK in 2013
42% of cases are preventable*