Immunotherapy’s Next Challenge
Virally Induced Cancers And The Promise Of Immunotherapy
Worldwide, 20 percent of cancers are caused by viruses. That accounts for 2.8 million new cancers each year. Curing these “virally induced” cancers is a top priority of the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.
“Virus-linked cancers are good targets for immunotherapy because the immune system is very efficient at going after viruses,” says Suzanne Topalian, M.D., the Institute’s associate director and one of the world’s leading experts on immunotherapy as a treatment for virally induced cancers. “Our research gives us reason to believe that many [other] cancers expressing virus-linked proteins may be good responders as well.”
5 Viruses and the Cancers They Cause
Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
Additionally, the number of head and neck cancers caused by HPV is increasing, and is expected to reach 90 percent in 20 years.
Hepatitis B and C viruses
Although hepatitis C is a chronic infection of liver and largely curable with drugs, it can still result in liver cancer. Hepatitis C-targeted drugs are ineffective against cancer.
Merkel-cell carcinoma is a rare and aggressive skin cancer.
Life-Saving FDA Approval
BKI Leads in the Fight Against Merkel-Cell Carcinoma, Hodgkin Lymphoma
The Food and Drug Administration in December approved the anti-PD-1 immune checkpoint blocker pembrolizumab, known as Keytruda, as the initial treatment for people with advanced Merkel-cell carcinomas. A multi-center trial led by Suzanne Topalian, M.D., associate director of the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, and other investigators at the Institute led to the FDA approval.
In the trial, published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Oncology, more than half of the 50 patients treated with Keytruda had long-lasting responses. About one-quarter of patients saw their cancers completely disappear.
“These findings could be a precursor to developing more effective treatments for other virus-related cancers,” say William Sharfman, M.D., the Mary Jo Rogers Professor of Cancer Immunology and Melanoma Research at the Bloomberg~Kimmel Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy.
Keytruda also has helped patients with Hodgkin lymphoma whose cancer did not respond to standard treatment or returned after standard therapies. Nivolumab (Opdivo), another immunotherapy drug, has also been FDA-approved for some patients with Hodgkin lymphoma.
BKI's Wide-Ranging Breakthrough Impact Continues