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Immunotherapy in Layman's Terms


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Personally I often get confused with all the technical terms and how Immunotherapy works. I copied few snippets from here and there to try and make sense of it. Please feel free to modify, add or delete to make it easier to understand.

Immunotherapy helps your immune system fight cancer in much the same way it fights off colds and viruses.

Doctors think our bodies know cancer cells are foreign and battle them at first. But then, like insects that get resistant to certain pesticides, cancer cells change. They make our bodies think they’re harmless so our defense system doesn’t attack .

Immunotherapy aims to get your body to fight cancer again -- and get rid of it all together. It does this in one of two ways:

Helps your immune system work harder

Places a bullseye on cancer cells so your immune system can find and destroy them.

There are 4 types of immunotherapy treatments:

1- Checkpoint inhibitors: Your immune system normally has checks and balances so it doesn’t go into overdrive and attack normal cells. Tumors that produce proteins called PD-L1 turn on these “checkpoints” and slow your immune system. Checkpoint inhibitors restart your immune system response so it can again fight cancer. FDA-approved checkpoint inhibitors include: Atezolizumab (Tecentriq), Duryalumab (Imfinzi) Nivolumab (Opdivo) Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)

Nivolumab (Opdivo) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda) target PD-1, a protein on certain immune cells (called T cells) that normally helps keep these cells from attacking other cells in the body. By blocking PD-1, these drugs boost the immune response against cancer cells. This can shrink some tumors or slow their growth.

Atezolizumab (Tecentriq) targets PD-L1, a protein related to PD-1 that is found on some tumor cells and immune cells. Blocking this protein can help boost the immune response against cancer cells. This can shrink some tumors or slow their growth.

Durvalumab (Imfinzi) also targets the PD-L1 protein, but this drug is used a little differently than the other PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors. It is used in people with stage III NSCLC whose cancer cannot be removed with surgery and has not gotten worse after they have received chemotherapy with radiation (chemoradiation). The goal of treatment with this drug (also called consolidation therapy) is to keep the cancer from getting worse for as long as

2- Monoclonal antibodies. Our bodies produce antibodies to fight foreign substances. These man-made versions act like normal antibodies, but go after cancer cells.

FDA-approved monoclonal antibodies for lung cancer include bevacizumab (Avastin) and ramucirumab (Cyramza).

3- Vaccines: They can either prevent or treat disease. There are no FDA-approved vaccines for the treatment or prevention of lung cancer, but some are being tested.

 (I saw a  program on NOVA that talks about a cancer vaccine in CUBA . There are coordinated efforts now between the scientists in Cuba and in the US to explore how to enhance the vaccine and make it available in the US. Our scientists like the technology and have hope it can work).

4- Adoptive cell therapy: Your doctor removes your T cells and treats them with cancer-fighting chemicals. They’re multiplied in a lab and put back into your body where they destroy cancer cells. Trials are under way. 

(There is also a program on NOVA that explains the process but I had to see it twice in order to understand. The trick is to remove a letter out of place in the gene sequence and replace it with the correct one. That seems to be the obstacle in gene therapy for all untreatable deceases). 

For those interested in more details on the Immune Checkpoint Antibodies here is a link:


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