The cancer immunotherapy renaissance is fully upon us.
Every major player in oncology therapeutic development as well as hundreds of startups are now focusing on new approaches to harness the power of the immune system to eliminate cancer cells. Much of this work is derived from the recent breakthroughs using checkpoint inhibition or adoptive cell transfer.
Did you know that Seattle has a long history in areas of foundational basic research that the current immunotherapy approaches are founded on? And that Seattle is continuing to play a role as home to some of the recent breakthroughs?
Much of the seminal work on T cell regulating molecules CTLA-4 and PD-1 took place at the Bristol Myers Squibb research center in Seattle, which was closed in 1997. Unfortunately it would take two more decades before this and other early work was translated into clinical success. FHCRC (The Hutch) is another Seattle institution with a strong legacy in basic immunologic science and much of that foundational work contributed to the current state-of-the-art for T cell modulation and CAR-T engineering.
The first immune-stimulating anti-cancer drug to be approved by the FDA (Provenge) was developed by Seattle-based Dendreon in 2010. More recently, Juno Therapeutics, which was built partly around CAR-T technology from The Hutch, exploded onto the scene and raised over $100 million in series A funding in 2013 and then nearly another $300 million from its IPO a year later.
It was therefore fitting that Seattle played host city in May to the 2016 AAI immunology meeting, where immunotherapy topics were a major highlight and any talk related to PD-1 or TCR engineering had standing room only crowds.
Although there’s considerable excitement around immunotherapy and the opportunity to improve upon it, there also remains meaningful challenges. The field still has much to learn about how to predict who will respond best and to which approaches. Another major hurdle is understanding and overcoming both inherent and acquired resistance to immunotherapy.
These are all topics that were presented and discussed at the Seattle AAI meeting. If you’re interested in learning more, I’ve put together a brief meeting report that summarizes the key opportunities and challenges of immuno-oncology. It also includes a simple explanation of the technology behind the two predominant forms of immunotherapy that are transforming the field of oncology.