New Year, Old Problem: What Is The Future Of Cancer Research?
As 2017 continues to take form, a big question looming in the minds of all stakeholders in the cancer research field is what the future of cancer research will be in the new administration.
Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are supportive of biomedical research. On Dec. 13, President Obama signed the act into law, securing $4.8 billion in federal research funding, including for the Cancer Moonshot and the Precision Medicine Initiative.
Positive News in the Field of Immunotherapy
Elizabeth Jaffee, MD, the Dana and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli professor of oncology and professor of pathology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said that the positive news in the field of immunotherapy is that there’s a lot of learning about the signals that tumours send to inhibit an effective immune response against them.
“We have already turned this knowledge into therapeutics that inhibit some of these signals (checkpoint inhibitors) so the T cells can be effective in attacking the cancer cells, and developing therapeutics that can activate certain other cells within the tumour microenvironment (checkpoint agonists) to help further activate the T cells,” Jaffee said.
Cancer is a generic term for a large group of diseases that can affect any part of the body. Other terms used are malignant tumours and neoplasms. One defining feature of cancer is the rapid creation of abnormal cells that grow beyond their usual boundaries, and which can then invade adjoining parts of the body and spread to other organs, the latter process is referred to as metastasising. Metastases are the major cause of death from cancer.
Cancers figure among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide with the number of new cases expected to rise by about 70% over the next 2 decades.
Jaffee, who is a past board member of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), further mentioned that we are likely to make more progress this year in personalising cancer treatment with vaccines,
“We are starting to understand the importance of neoantigens for targeting by the immune system. Tumours of many patients who respond to immunotherapy create neoantigens constantly. If we can identify them by sequencing the tumours, we can develop vaccines against them to jumpstart the immune system.”
Jaffee also added that we are going to see several clinical trials trying this approach this year.
In the continuous battle against cancer, we can only hope that the more trials and research is done, the closer we are to finding a solution to dealing with this merciless illness that continues to claim thousands of lives worldwide, annually.