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What’s New in Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy has brought about dramatic changes in oncology as treatment shifts from surgery, radiation and chemotherapy to precision targeted therapies and immunotherapies.

“Boosting your own immune system to fight cancer has revolutionized treatment,” says Lewis Lanier, PhD, of UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center. “After years of basic research to discover how the immune system works, we can now use this knowledge to treat cancer—and we’re only in the beginning stages.”

Today’s immunotherapies don’t work for everyone or for all types of cancer. Fewer than a dozen immune-based medications are currently approved. Across all cancers, checkpoint inhibitors work only about 25 percent of the time. And the current CAR-T therapies work only for blood cancers, like leukemia and lymphoma, not the common solid tumors responsible for most cancer deaths.

But there’s much more on the horizon, with over 1,000 studies testing combinations of immune-based therapies.

“We’re likely to see more response as we treat patients whose immune system is not so beaten up by chemotherapy and radiation,” predicts Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD, president and CEO of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy. “I think in five years we’ll be seeing a great deal of success in solid tumors,” he says.

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