Remarkable success stories bring cancer immunotherapy into the limelight

Oncologist Nizar M. Tannir has seen kidney tumors larger and more aggressive than the 8-inch, 31/2-pound behemoth surgeons removed from Philip Prichard. But not many. Prichard’s last hope was the clinical trial Tannir was running to test a drug aimed at unleashing the human immune system to fight cancer cells.

Today, two years after his treatment began, the 50-year-old Prichard is so healthy that Tannir is trying to decide whether to halt the medication, one of three such drugs so far approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Over many years, researchers have tried a variety of ways to enlist the immune system in the fight against cancer cells, with only modest success. Today, immune therapies have quickly become the fourth pillar of cancer treatment, alongside surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.

But even as they celebrate previously unimaginable progress, cancer experts are coming to understand the current limits of the powerful new therapies. Drugs that rid some people of cancers such as metastatic melanoma have no effect on other patients with the same disease. Another problem is cost: The prices of the three drugs approved by the FDA are astronomical, in many cases more than $10,000 per dose, and the numbers are likely to climb. And no one has any idea what the long-term impact of unchaining the human immune system may be.


But research is charging ahead, as oncologists, researchers and drug companies anticipate the progress and profits to be made in coming years.

“I do think that it is a very amazing time in our field,” said Jedd D. Wolchok, associate director of the Ludwig Center for Cancer Immuno­therapy at Memorial Sloan Kettering and one of the researchers in that study.

The GLP aggregated and excerpted this blog/article to reflect the diversity of news, opinion and analysis. Read full, original post: He had a 3.5-pound tumor and months to live. Here’s how he survived.

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