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An early study ‘infuses hope’ back into attempts to use immunotherapy to treat brain cancer

Giving patients with lethal brain tumors a powerful new form of cancer treatment before they underwent surgery helped them live longer on average than patients who started the drugs after surgery, researchers reported in a study published Monday.

While the study was small, and while most patients still died by the end of the study period, researchers said the results suggested timing could be an important factor when trying to treat glioblastoma, or GBM, with immunotherapies, which are designed to unleash the immune system on cancer cells. Previous attempts to use immunotherapies to help GBM patients have failed to yield broad clinical benefits, and any positive results catch attention with a cancer as formidable as GBM, which has a median survival time of just a few years.

“We’ve at least found a window,” said Robert Prins, a tumor immunologist at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and a senior author of the paper. “Before we just hadn’t seen anything. Now, I think we’re seeing a signal.”

[…] Researchers initially designed the study just as a scientific survey to compare what happened to the immune system and tumor in the different patient groups; they weren’t expecting to uncover an apparent clinical benefit when it came to the timing of the treatments.

“The original idea was really to understand what PD-1 blockade does to the tumor microenvironment, what it does to the immune response to the tumor in the brain,” said Prins, who is also affiliated with Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.

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