Immunotherapy: The 2016 Clinical Cancer Advance of the Year

February 4, 2016
Greg Guthrie, ASCO staff

Today, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) releases its annual report, Clinical Cancer Advances 2016 (PDF). The 2016 Advance of the Year is cancer immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is also called biologic therapy and is a cancer treatment designed to boost the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer in the body.  

“No recent advance has been more transformative than the rise of immunotherapy, particularly over this past year,” said Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO, ASCO President. share on twitter “These new therapies are not only transforming patient lives, they are also opening intriguing avenues for further research.”

Scientists first thought of manipulating the body’s immune system to attack cancer more than 100 years ago. Making the immune system do that, however, was filled with challenges and setbacks. Before safe and effective immunotherapy could be delivered to patients, the medical community had to build a deeper understanding of both cancer biology and the immune syste

As research on cancer immunotherapy grew, clinical trials of promising approaches followed one after another. Two main strategies are now being explored, and both have achieved major successes over the past year. The first strategy involves unleashing the body’s natural immune response to cancer. The second helps the immune system find and destroy cancer cells.

Immunotherapy is a promising new strategy to treat cancer. share on twitter  It may be able to control tumor growth and have fewer side effects than chemotherapy. Although exciting advances have been made, research will focus on making these benefits extend to more and more patients. Scientists are also exploring how they can predict who will respond best to certain immunotherapy regimens.

The video below shows an animation of how immunotherapy drugs for melanoma and lung cancer work.