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Treatment History

We believe now is the time to maximize immunotherapy’s unique potential to transform most cancers into a manageable disease to save millions of lives.

Humans have battled cancer for ‎as long as we’ve existed. The earliest recorded use of the term “cancer” dates to Hippocrates, the Greek father of medicine, in the 4th century BC. It’s a history of triumph followed by tragedy, as promising breakthroughs failed to deliver cures. Half of all cancers are now treatable with chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery — the rest will kill you.

1800’s

Surgery

Limitations:

  • Does not work for tumors that are inaccessible
  • Limited effectiveness if tumor has begun to spread

1900’s

Radiation

Limitations:

  • Can be dangerous for tumors near vital organs
  • Limited effectiveness if tumor has begun to spread

1940’s

Chemotherapy

Limitations:

  • Has high toxicity and often does not destroy whole tumor, leading to high rates of recurrence

2000’s

Targeted Drugs

Limitations:

  • Works with limited tumor types
  • Short durability leads to high rates of recurrence

2010’s

Immunotherapy

Benefits:
  • Works for many types and stages of cancer
  • Durable in many individuals and less toxic
  • Works well with other treatments

We are now at an inflection point.

The cancer immunotherapy field has made tremendous progress in just a few short years, much of it spearheaded by Parker Institute scientists. We now have a better ability to study cancer and its response to treatment at the molecular level, to genetically engineer cells as therapies and have a greater understanding of the role of the immune system.

In the 1990s, scientists James Allison, PhD, and Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD, now respectively Parker Institute Director and CEO and President of the Parker Institute, independently discovered that, to prevent autoimmunity and overreactions, a molecule called CTLA-4 acts as a “brake,” or checkpoint, on the immune response. This insight led to the development of drugs called “checkpoint inhibitors.” First-generation checkpoint inhibitor drugs have achieved unprecedented responses in melanoma, lung and kidney cancers, and are being developed for virtually every other type of tumor.

James Allison, PhD, Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy center director at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
James Allison, PhD, Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy center director at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD

In separate studies, the development of cancer-targeting T-cell therapies (termed CAR-Ts), pioneered by Parker Institute Center Director at University of Pennsylvania Carl June, MD, and others, has led to impressive results in several blood cancers in children and adults.

These breakthroughs have resulted in industry recognition and recent FDA approvals, further accelerating the field’s progress. There is now a widespread consensus that the immune system is a promising mechanism to treat cancer. Immunotherapy was Science magazine’s 2013 “Breakthrough of the Year,” and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) followed in 2016, naming cancer immunotherapy its advance of the year.

With recent scientific discoveries and the Parker Institute’s pioneering organizational model, we expect to dramatically accelerate research breakthroughs and hasten the delivery of better treatments to patients.

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