Successes in cancer immunotherapy

Successes in cancer immunotherapy



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Immunotherapy opens up new possibilities for cancer treatment

Immunotherapy offers great opportunities in the fight against cancer, but not all types of cancer are equally suitable for this special treatment approach and the activation of the immune system can also pose risks, experts from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) reported in a press workshop in Heidelberg last week.

One of the cancer patients who has already benefited from the new possibilities of immunotherapy is Georgios Kessesidis, whose case the news agency "dpa" describes. Initially, Kessesidis suffered from unspecific complaints such as swollen lymph nodes and increased night sweats. His physical performance has also declined. The repeated visits to the doctor had always diagnosed bronchitis or asthma, not least because the 27-year-old suffered from hay fever, according to the "dpa" report. After months it turned out that lung cancer was actually the cause of the complaints. "I expected everything from illnesses, but certainly not something like that," the news agency quotes the young man. The cancer was already in a very advanced stage of the disease and was initially assessed by the experts as neither curable nor sensible to operate. Thanks to immunotherapy, Kessesidis still lives today and feels "really good" according to his own statements.

First clinical successes of immunotherapy Immunotherapy against cancer was celebrated as the "breakthrough of the year" in 2013 by the renowned journal "Science" and meanwhile the new therapeutic approach "is actually entering the clinic and is helping more and more cancer patients", the DKFZ announced. Among other things, the CEO of the German Cancer Research Center, Professor, reported. Dr. h.c. Otmar D. Wiestler, at last week's press workshop on the promising concept of immunotherapy against cancer and Professor Dr. Dirk Jäger, Director of Medical Oncology at the National Center for Tumor Diseases (NCT) Heidelberg and Head of the Tumor Immunology Department at the DKFZ, used practical examples to explain how cancer patients survive longer thanks to immunotherapy.

Activation of certain immune cells against lung cancer According to the “dpa”, the original chemotherapy was unsuccessful in the treatment of the 27-year-old, and Kessesidis decided to participate in an international study that used immunotherapy against cancer. Since June 2014, the patient has been treated based on the new approach. This therapy or this drug "activated certain immune cells, immune cells that are able to recognize and kill tumor cells," quotes the "dpa" the doctor of the young cancer patient, Professor Dirk Jäger. So far, however, too little time has passed to speak of a cure. In addition, the treatment does not work for all lung cancer patients.

Old dream of cancer therapy Generally, some types of tumor are recognized by the immune system better than others. So far, according to the "dpa" communication, there are no sufficiently effective options for immunotherapy against many types of cancer. For example, it shows far less good results for colon cancer and pancreatic cancer, reports the news agency, citing Prof. Jäger. Worldwide, however, research is in full swing. Numerous studies are being carried out and many companies are involved in the development of corresponding drugs. "There is a real gold rush mood, also in the pharmaceutical industry and in biotechnology", DKFZ boss Otmar Wiestler is quoted by the "dpa". "Immunotherapy is an old dream of cancer medicine." After all, cancer cells form "foreign cells in the body - and one should actually believe that our immune system recognizes them," says Wiestler. Here, however, the immune system fails, which could not be explained for a long time.

Patients respond differently to immunotherapy "Today we know that tumors can hide from the immune system and are then simply no longer recognized as foreign," Prof. Wiestler of the "dpa" continues to quote. In addition, "cancer tissue builds a protective wall that prevents cells of the immune system from recognizing the cancer cells and penetrating into the cancer tissue." On the basis of these findings, completely new strategies have been developed in recent years that reactivate the immune system against cancer cells become possible. In the ongoing clinical studies, some patients, such as 27-year-old Kessesidis, respond surprisingly well to the new drugs, according to the expert. Other patients, on the other hand, show almost no reaction to the immunotherapy "and we do not really understand why at the moment", reports the DKFZ boss in the contribution of the "dpa". In addition, with the apparently successful course of treatment, the question arises “whether these reactions will persist in the long term and whether one can really speak of a cure.” “None of us can currently predict this,” says Wiestler.

Successful treatment not a big exception According to Professor Jäger, the case of Georgios Kessesidis is by no means the big exception. “We have quite a number of patients with whom we see such courses. Not all of them, but a whole series, ”quotes the“ dpa ”the doctor. Kessesidis is currently still receiving an infusion every two weeks in Heidelberg, although the ongoing study is not only examining the success of treatment, but also possible side effects. The "dpa" reports here of mild diarrhea at the beginning of immunotherapy and a temporary worsening of the patient's psoriasis. A very similar substance, like the drug of the 27-year-old cancer patient, has just been approved in the United States, according to Jäger, and experts expect approval in Germany in about a year, the news agency said. The experts estimate the expected treatment costs to be between 15,000 and 20,000 euros. (fp)

Image: Andrea Damm / pixelio.de

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