Cancer immunotherapy leverages your body’s own defenses to treat cancer. It takes the always-on defense of your own immune system and trains it to recognize cancer cells as the harmful things they are, and to kill them. Not once, not for a little while, but always, forever, ongoing — it is a breathtaking new hope in the fight against cancer.
Humans have battled cancer for as long as we’ve existed. The earliest recorded use of term “cancer” dates to Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine, in the 4th fourth century BC. It’s a history of triumph followed by tragedy, as promising breakthroughs failed to deliver cures. One in two men and one in three women will get cancer. We have spent $300 billion fighting this battle over the past forty years. The cost of this disease in human suffering is immeasurable. As a result of these efforts, half of all cancers are now treatable with chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery — the rest will kill you.
We have invested huge amounts of money and effort in the war against cancer. So why haven’t we won? A major reason is the enormity of the scientific challenge. We have made many research breakthroughs in the last decades, but each advance has underlined just how complex cancer really is.
Cancer is clever – it’s dynamic, constantly evolving and adapting to evade our attacks. It is not just one disease, but a collection of well over 100 related diseases. Even a single tumor is not static or simple to target. And the cancer tumor itself is not the only thing we need to focus on – the surrounding healthy cells and connective tissue play a role, further complicating the scientific picture. This complexity means that each patient’s cancer can act differently. That’s why immunotherapy turns to your own body to defeat the cancer.
Your body’s immune system is always hard at work, protecting you from the countless threats that surround you: viruses, bacteria, parasites. Once your immune system identifies something as harmful and “not you,” it is relentless in eradicating it. Many cancer cells are full of mutations, just like virally infected cells. So if the immune system is so good at recognizing mutations, what’s stopping it from killing cancer?
Cancer is clever. It tricks your immune system into thinking it belongs — that it’s you. So your immune system doesn’t attack it, and the cancer cells are left to grow and multiply — that is, unless science lends a helping hand.
It takes the always-on defense of your own immune system and trains it to recognize cancer cells as the harmful things they are, and to kill them. Not once, not for a little while, but always, forever, ongoing — it is a breathtaking new hope in the fight against cancer.
The Parker Institute initially focuses on three major approaches:
In cell therapies, the T-cells are removed from a patient, genetically engineered to recognize and kill cancer, multiplied a billion-fold, then put back into the body. These engineered T-cells not only kill cancer, they’re a standing cancer-killing army on guard in your body, constantly ready to attack again and again.
Your body has natural “brakes” on the immune system to prevent it from overreacting. But cancer hides behind these blockades, convincing your immune system that the brakes should stay on and immune cells shouldn’t be activated. Checkpoint inhibitors release these brakes so your immune system can attack and kill the cancer.
Using markers, specialized viruses, and other signals, these elaborate enhancers improve the immune system’s ability to recognize and reject cancer cells. These cancer immunotherapies are the first treatments complex and flexible enough to adapt alongside cancer, and ultimately overcome it.
Immunotherapy overcomes many of the major problems that other approaches have:
|Targeting||Kills healthy tissue along with cancer cells|
|Unsystematic||Doesn’t systematically search the whole body for spreading cancer cells|
|Durability||Does not “remember” cancer to prevent its return|
|Dynamism||Cannot adapt its defenses as cancer cells grow and change|
|Synergies||Works alone, not in tandem with other treatment types|
|Power||Does not disrupt cancer’s entire support system|
|Universality||Cannot work for all types of cancer|
|Cure Rates||Low cure rates–few patients survive 5 years|
Immunotherapy’s difference is in its durability. While traditional therapies may extend lives, the responses are often not durable – the disease progress or recurs, often very quickly, and few lives are ultimately saved. Immunotherapies, on the other hand, can be curative and durable. Patients with sufficient anti-cancer immunity achieve durable control over their disease, and many lives are saved, not just briefly extended.
The field of cancer immunotherapy has made tremendous progress in just a few short years, much of it spearheaded by PICI’s scientists. We are at an inflection point – if we continue with business as usual, the pace of the return on investment in cancer research will slow. But given recent scientific discoveries and PICI’s pioneering organizational model, we can dramatically accelerate research breakthroughs and quickly get better treatments to patients.
The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy brings together the best scientists, clinicians, and industry partners to build a smarter and more coordinated cancer immunotherapy research effort. Our goal is to enable real collaboration, accelerating the most ambitious research to deliver new immunotherapies engineered to save lives.
The Parker Institute is an unprecedented collaboration between the country’s leading immunologists and cancer centers: Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Stanford University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, San Francisco, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
We bring together the worlds best. We are 6 centers, over 40 labs, and over 300 of the nation’s top researchers, all working together to cure cancer once and for all.