EHA Topics-in-Focus: Immunotherapy

Topics in Focus Immunotherapy 8

EHA Topics-in-Focus programs are aimed at raising awareness, providing education, furthering research, and building a network of experts. The goal is to improve patient care in areas with many new and promising developments or areas that -for multiple reasons-require special attention.

Currently, progress in cancer treatment is mainly to be found in the realm of immunology.

In essence, immunotherapy comes down to the question: how can the patient's own immune system be modified to attack cancer cells? Various answers to that question have been discovered in recent years. By nature, the immune system is equipped to fight cancer, but tumor cells can trick the immune system or exploit its weaknesses. Immunotherapy is meant to warn the system that it has been tricked and to help mobilize its force against the tumor.

One approach involves checkpoint inhibitors. The initial immune response may be suppressed by immune checkpoints, which are often upregulated on tumor cells and T cells in the tumor micro-environment. Inhibition of these checkpoints with checkpoint inhibitors such as PD-1/PD-L1 blocking antibodies can lift the brake off the immune system. 

Another approach involves Bispecific T Cell Engagers (BiTE). These are bispecific antibodies, which in this case means that one binding domain - the CD3 binding domain - targets T cells, and the other targets a surface antigen on a tumor cell. They thus form an immunological synapse and induce lysis of the tumor cell.

A third approach involves Chimeric Antigen Receptor T Cells (CAR T cells). Here, T cells are harvested from the patient or a healthy donor and re-programmed to recognize a surface antigen on a tumor cell. After this 'training', the T cells are reinfused in the patient, ready to kill tumor cells. CAR T cell therapy has recently shown exciting and promising results. That makes Immunotherapy a logical choice for the first EHA Topic-in-Focus program.