In our ongoing attempt to get our community better acquainted with what we do at OncoSec, we’ve been creating more dialogue around our ImmunoPulse program and recent clinical trial data. With the expanding biotech landscape, we find it important to educate the public about topics of interest that are directly impacting the way medicine is being researched and treatment options created. The field of immunotherapy is one of these fields on the cutting edge of medical advancements. Here we’ve compiled a list of four frequently asked questions about immunotherapy:
What is Immunotherapy?
Immunotherapy is a medical discipline that modifies the human immune system by increasing effectiveness and potency (activation immunotherapy) or by decreasing activity and cell count (immunosuppression). While immunosuppression is predominantly used in organ transplants (in order for the organ to take to the host) or autoimmune conditions, activation is used to treat diseases such as cancer. This is done by stimulating cell growth or replication, reprogramming immune cells to locate and eradicate foreign cells or otherwise conditioning the immune system to better combat disease. For an example of these techniques, see our ImmunoPulse system.
How many Types of Immunotherapy Exist?
There are many different methods within immunotherapy. Some clone or reengineer a patient’s own T-cells, prepare the immune system again specific infections (such as vaccines: some of which can help prevent cancer), or introduce lab-made proteins into the immune system. In terms of cancer, while some approaches utilize a direct or indirect immune response that ends in the cell death of tumor cells, others utilize cytokines (such as IL-12) in a broader immune response that boosts the immune system and aids in destroying cancer cells. Each approach is suited to different situations and all are being used in the fight against cancer.
Shouldn’t the Immune System Already be Fighting Cancer?
While the immune system is naturally trying to protect your body, cancer can greatly diminish the effectiveness. Cancer itself suppresses and weakens the immune system, through destroying or repurposing immune cells, using cell receptors to discombobulate t-cells and other immune cells, and otherwise disrupting cell activities. Some pre-existing conditions and surgeries (such as transplants) can also carry further immune suppression that increases risk of cancer altogether. Furthermore, treatment options like chemotherapy can also deteriorate the human immune system, leaving it very difficult for your body to fight back against cancer.
Cancer Drugs are Harmful and have Debilitating Side Effects. Why Consider Immunotherapy an Option?
Many immunotherapy techniques (such as OncoSec’s current clinical trial methods) have been shown to have very high safety profiles that result in few and less intense side effects. With the possibility of greater effectiveness and lower side effects, the field is a promising one. By skipping many of the complications associated with chemotherapy and radiation, patients who have undergone immunotherapy treatment can get back to their lives faster, with a higher standard of living. For a comparison between these treatment types, please see our post on chemo, radiation and immunotherapy.
(Main image by Stephen Dickter)