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The promise of immunotherapy

Friday, 16 August, 2013

“YERVOY (ipilimumab) can cause serious side effects in many parts of your body which can lead to death.” That’s a rather drastic warning for a drug company to offer prospective users, but that’s exactly what Bristol-Myers Squibb is doing in the case of YERVOY (ipilimumab), which “shrank tumors significantly in about 41 percent of patients with advanced melanoma in a small study. In few of the 52 patients in the study, tumors disappeared completely, at least as could be determined by imaging.” One of that “few” is the journalist is Mary Elizabeth Williams, who writes for Salon. Since late 2011, she’s been taking part in an immunotherapy clinical trial at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan and, as she puts it, she’s “clean”. What is immunotherapy? Williams explains:

“Unlike traditional cancer treatments, immunotherapy works with the body’s own defense system, releasing the braking system on a patient’s T-cells to attack cancer. And because it works systemically, the hope is that the immune system will be able to fight not just the cancer cells that testing can detect, but anywhere it might be lurking in the body — and to continue to do so long-term.”

That’s a snippet from “My ‘truly remarkable’ cancer breakthrough,” which appeared in Salon on 17 May this year. “Because immunotherapy worked so well for enough of us, my greatest hope is that now it will work well for a whole hell of a lot more of us,” says Williams. And so say all of us. By the way, on Wednesday OncLive reported that, “Any lingering skepticism about immunotherapy as an anticancer strategy appears to have been banished by research presented at the 2013 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, with fresh data from several key trials translating into excitement in clinical circles and in the investment arena.” Faster, please.

 melanoma cells


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