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Special Report: Immunotherapies

A Brief History

Immunotherapies (biologics/cell therapies/vaccines) are among the most promising treatments in current pharmaceutical development.

What is an immunotherapy? The text book definition is the "treatment of disease by inducing, enhancing, or suppressing an immune response." Originally, the term comprised the therapeutic administration of serum or immune globulin containing preformed antibodies produced by another individual. Immunotherapy includes nonspecific systemic stimulation, active specific immunotherapy, allergen immunotherapy and adoptive immunotherapy. New forms of immunotherapy, specifically for cancer treatment, include the use of monoclonal antibodies (MAbs). Cancer immunotherapy attempts to stimulate the immune system to reject and destroy tumors.

Immuno cell therapy for cancer was first presented in the late 1980s by Rosenberg and his team at the United States, National Institutes of Health. Rosenberg reported a clinical trial in 1,205 patients with metastatic cancer who underwent different types of active specific immunotherapy. The immunotherapy regimes produced low tumor regression rates (2.6–3.3%). Rosenberg and his team thereby concluded that immuno cell therapy along with specific chemotherapy was the future of cancer immunotherapy.

The adverse effects of these initial immunotherapy products, largely cytokines such as Interleukin, sparked new techniques involving the extraction of lymphocytes from the blood and expansion in vitro against specific tumor antigens, before then injecting the cells into patients with the appropriate stimulatory (immunomodulatory, see below)) cytokines. These newly engineered cells then specifically target and destroy the tumor expressing antigen against which they have been raised.

Cell-based or adoptive immunotherapies are proven to be effective for some cancers. Immune effector cells such as lymphocytes, macrophages, dendritic cells, natural killer cells (NK Cell), cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL), etc, work together to defend the body against cancer by targeting abnormal antigens expressed on the surface of the tumor due to mutation.

Another promising specific and cell based immunotherapy involves the use of “loaded” specific antibodies for different types of tumor cells. These antigen specific antibodies contain either anti-neoplastic drugs or radioactive materials. When injected into the bloodstream of a patient with that particular kind of tumor, these “loaded” antibodies attach to the surface of the malignant tumor cells, thereby specifically targeting these cells and causing less damage to healthy non-malignant cells.

Non-specific immunotherapy relies on general immune stimulants to activate the whole immune system rather than specific tumor cells. In the past decade, immunotherapy against cancer has involved the use of the bacille Calmette-Guérin vaccine (bcg vaccine), which is evolved from strains of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and is used to provide some immunity to tuberculosis.

Remarkable surgery uses stem cells to regenerate an eye’s lens and restore vision

If worn body parts could be repaired, we could live longer and healthier lives. That is the dream of those working in the field of regenerative medicine. In a feat towards that dream, researchers in China have used a new technique to restore vision in children suffering from cataracts.

Some 20 million people are blind because of cataracts, which is the result of clouding in the eye lens. The condition is more common among the old, but some children are born with it too.

Conventional treatment of a cataract involves removal of the affected eye lens and replacing it with an artificial one. This works well in adults but can cause complications in growing children.

So instead of replacing it with an artificial lens, researchers at Sun Yat-sen University and the University of California at San Diego used body’s own stem cells. These cells are the most promising tool in regenerative medicine, because they can divide into any kind of cell in the body.

The researchers make a small slit in the lens capsule to remove the cloudy cataract. Then the capsule, which is already lined with a type of lens stem cell, is left alone. Slowly the stem cells start regenerating the lens. They first performed the surgery in rabbits and then monkeys. In both cases, they had very high success rates.

They then performed the surgery in 12 children that had cataracts in both eyes. After eight months, they report in Nature, the lens regrew as was hoped. “This is the first time an entire lens has been regenerated. The children … continue to be doing very well with normal vision,” researcher Kang Zhang told the BBC.

The treatment will now need to undergo a bigger trial to be sure that it can be safely used on patients. And it may not work in older patients, whose stem cells are less capable than the youthful ones in children.

Still, this treatment comes at a time when stem cells could prove useful in helping those with other kinds of vision problems. In another study published in Nature, researchers report successfully converting stem cells into cells from the cornea, conjunctiva, and retina. This raises hope not just for repairing other parts of the eye, but for partial eye transplantations to restore vision in those who have previously had no hope of ever being able to see.

Immunotherapy could be the future of cancer treatments

For decades most cancers have been treated with the standard of care treatments which typically include surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. Now there is talk that immunotherapy represents "the future of cancer treatments." 

CEL-SCI Corporation, a Vienna-based biotech firm is now investigating their flagship investigational cancer immunotherapy called Multikine (Leukocyte Interleukin, Injection), in a global Phase 3 clinical study what they believe is the logical next step in immunotherapy development. Based on the results of earlier human studies, researchers at CEL-SCI believe that immunotherapy should be administered as an initial therapy before a patient's immune system has been debilitated by surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. Data from Multikine Phase 2 human studies demonstrated that when Multikine was administered for only 3 weeks immediately after diagnosis, the treatment reduced and in some cases eliminated all signs of a tumor before surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy, for head and neck cancer patients, were administered.


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