Cancer Immunotherapy: ASCO’s 2016 Advance of the Year

Last Updated: November 16, 2020

Immunotherapy was named by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) as the 2016 Advance of the Year. Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that boosts the body’s natural defenses to fight cancer. It uses substances made by the body or in a laboratory to improve how your immune system works to find and destroy cancer cells. This video describes and illustrates how immunotherapy works.

More Information 

Immunotherapy: The 2016 Clinical Cancer Advance of the Year

Understanding Immunotherapy

Side Effects of Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy 2.0: The 2017 Clinical Cancer Advance of the Year

What are Cancer Vaccines?

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Cancer Immunotherapy: ASCO’s Advance of the Year; Clinical Cancer Advances 2016 Report

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Many cancers have the ability to switch off the body’s immune response.

A simplified illustration of the human figure shows a bright red spot on the upper torso.

This allows cancers – like melanoma – to grow, escaping the immune defenses.

The illustration zooms in on the red spot, labeled “Melanoma.” It begins to flash outwards, representing the cancer spreading. Then the illustration zooms in further to the level of individual cancer cells.

In some cancers, this occurs at a cellular level, where the cancer cell’s PD-L1 protein interacts with the immune cell’s PD-1 receptor.

An illustration shows 2 cells. The large red cancer cell has several purple PD-L1 proteins sticking out of it. The smaller blue immune cell has several purple PD-1 receptors sticking out of it. The edges of the PD-L1 protein on the cancer cell are a perfect fit for the PD-1 receptor on the immune cell.

This interaction deactivates the immune cell, so the body no longer recognizes the cancer cell as an unhealthy threat.

The cancer cell and immune cell move closer together and the PD-L1 protein on the cancer cell connects to the PD-1 receptor on the immune cell. The immune cell is deactivated, represented by the color of the outer layer of the immune cell changing.

As a result, cancer cells can multiply, unchecked by the immune system.

The single cancer cell divides into 2 cancer cells, and then each of those cancer cells divide again, resulting in 4 cancer cells, while the immune cell does nothing. Then the screen fades to white.

New immunotherapies block the interaction between the PD-1 and PD-L1, allowing the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.

The illustration once again shows 2 cells, a large red cancer cell with several purple PD-L1 proteins sticking out of it, and a smaller blue immune cell with several purple PD-1 receptors sticking out of it. First, PD-L1 immunotherapy appears as small attachments to each PD-L1 protein on the cancer cell, changing the shape of the proteins. Then, PD-1 immunotherapy appears as small attachments to the end of each PD-1 receptor on the immune cell, changing the shape of the receptors. When the cells move closer together with the PD-1 immunotherapy attached to the immune cell receptors, the protein and receptor are unable to connect, and the immune cell is able to destroy the cancer cell.

In clinical trials, different PD-1 and PD-L1 immunotherapies slowed cancer growth, allowing some patients to live longer.

The illustration returns to the human figure with the flashing red spot of melanoma. The melanoma stops flashing and shrinks.

The rise of immunotherapy is ASCO’s Advance of the Year. In the past year, PD-1 immunotherapies continued to improve outcomes for people with advanced melanoma.

The illustration of the human figure zooms out slightly. The skin is highlighted and labeled melanoma.

Two PD-1 immunotherapies were FDA approved for the treatment of advanced lung cancer in 2015.

The illustration displays the lungs, labeled lung cancer.

And clinical trials suggest that PD-1 and PD-L1 immunotherapies are effective against a range of other cancers.

The illustration of the figure zooms out further to show the entire body, showing different types of cancer that currently have immunotherapy clinical trials: head/neck cancer, melanoma, lung cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma (lymph node cancer). Each type of cancer is pointing to the part of the body it affects.

Other immunotherapy approaches also gained momentum, including therapeutic cancer vaccines and T-cell therapy.

“No recent advance has been more transformative than The Rise of Immunotherapy, particularly over this past year.” – 2016 ASCO President Julie M. Vose, MD, MBA, FASCO

Learn more about immunotherapy and progress in cancer research in this year’s Clinical Cancer Advances report. CancerProgress.Net/CCA