Immunotherapy mystery: Drugs treat ovarian cancer 'when they should not have'

| | March 6, 2018

[Four women with rare ovarian cancer], strangers to one another living in different countries, asked their doctors to try new immunotherapy drugs that had revolutionised treatment of cancer. At first, they were told the drugs were out of the question – they would not work against ovarian cancer.

Now it looks as if the doctors were wrong. The women managed to get immunotherapy, and their cancers went into remission. They returned to work; their lives returned to normalcy. The tale has befuddled scientists, who are struggling to understand why the drugs worked when they should not have.

Immunotherapy drugs pierce that protective shield, allowing the immune system to recognise and demolish tumour cells. But the new drugs do not work against many common cancers. Those cancers are supported by fewer genetic mutations, and experts believe that the tumour cells just do not look threatening enough to the body to spur a response. So the immune system leaves them alone.

The idea that [immunotherapy] drugs might work against something like hypercalcemic ovarian cancer, which is fuelled by just one genetic mutation, just made no sense.

One explanation, [oncologist Douglas Levine] and [researcher Eliezer] Van Allen say, is that the immune system may recognise that cells in which genes are erratically turning on and off are dangerous and should be destroyed.

Read full, original post: Cured unexpectedly of cancer

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