Recent breakthroughs in immuno-oncology research translate into a paradigm shift with regards to attacking advancing cancer. The benefits of immuno-oncology have resulted in long-lasting tumor regression where surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and targeted therapy proved less effective.
Two of the most studied areas for immuno-oncology research today are checkpoint inhibitors and chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy. The two models are very different, with both offering unique advantages.
Immune checkpoints are cell pathways crucial in maintaining a normal immune response and protecting tissues from damage when the immune system is activated. Tumor cells deregulate immune checkpoints and use this as a mechanism of immune resistance. Understanding immune checkpoints in natural killer (NK) cells and T cells is a main focus of research as these cells regulate both the adaptive and innate immunity surrounding the tumor.
Many immuno-oncology therapeutics are mass-produced antibody or fusion proteins. Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy breaks that mold by utilizing a genetically modified patient T cell that attacks and kills the cancer cells.
T cells do not normally identify cancer cells as foreign bodies, which would mark them for destruction. For immunotherapy to work, T cells are genetically manipulated to enable them to identify the cancer cells as an enemy and kill them as they would other foreign bodies. The T cells are genetically modified with CARs containing antibody-based recognition domains directed against cell-surface antigens linked to intracellular signaling sequences to overcome the cancer cell’s tolerance. Once created, these modified T cells are reintroduced into the patient along with chemotherapy.