Immunotherapy: What To Know About this Medical Breakthrough – 2023

Immunotherapy represents one of the most promising frontiers in the medical world today. It’s a type of treatment that harnesses the power of our body’s immune system to fight diseases, offering new possibilities and hope where traditional methods might fall short. In this article, we will discuss what you need to know about this breakthrough medical solution, especially for those battling with the big C. 

What is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a biomedical intervention that bolsters or modulates the immune system’s response to a disease. This approach can involve many techniques, from stimulating the body’s immune response to directly introducing immune agents like antibodies. Given the immune system’s pivotal role in safeguarding health, this form of therapy capitalizes on its natural prowess to target and counteract diseases.

Role of the Immune System in Fighting Diseases

The immune system plays a crucial role in fighting diseases. Below are a few of the key components:

  • Recognition

The immune system can differentiate between the body’s cells and foreign invaders. Specialized cells, known as T-cells, are adept at identifying harmful pathogens or mutated cancer cells.

  • Destruction

Once detected, various immune cells, like macrophages and cytotoxic T-cells, work together to destroy these invaders, ensuring they do not increase and cause harm.

  • Memory

A remarkable feature of our immune system is its ability to remember past invaders. B-cells produce antibodies that can quickly recognize and neutralize known pathogens if they attempt to invade the body again.

  • Regulation

The immune system mustn’t become overactive and attack the body’s tissues. Regulatory cells play a role in controlling and moderating immune responses to ensure a balanced reaction.

Types of Immunotherapies

Understanding what immunotherapy is lays the foundation for grasping its multifaceted applications. Immunotherapy doesn’t refer to just one method or treatment; instead, it encompasses a wide range of techniques, each tapping into the body’s immune system in distinct ways. Let’s delve into the various types of immune therapies available today:

  1. Monoclonal Antibodies (mAbs)

Monoclonal Antibodies (mAbs) are laboratory-made molecules that act as substitute antibodies. With immunotherapy, mAbs can boost the body’s natural defenses by targeting specific parts of cancer cells or other harmful agents, marking them for destruction by the immune system.

  1. Cancer Vaccines

Unlike traditional vaccines that prevent diseases, cancer vaccines treat existing cancer or prevent cancer from developing. They stimulate the immune system to recognize and combat specific cancer cells.

  1. Checkpoint Inhibitors

These drugs release the “brakes” that cancer puts on the immune system. By blocking certain proteins, checkpoint inhibitors allow immune cells to recognize and attack cancer cells more effectively.

  1. Adoptive Cell Transfer

In this technique, immune cells are taken from a patient, modified or amplified in the lab, and reintroduced into the patient to help fight cancer. A known form of this is CAR T-cell therapy, where T cells are altered to target specific cancer cell proteins.

  1. Oncolytic Virus Therapy

This therapy employs viruses modified in a laboratory to infect and kill cancer cells without harming normal cells. As cancer cells die, they release antigens that stimulate an immune response against the cancer.

  1. Cytokines

Cytokines are proteins that play vital roles in immunotherapy in cell signaling within the immune system. Two main types of cytokines used in im are interferons and interleukins. They boost the immune response by promoting cell growth and directing cell activity.

Columvi as A Pioneering Bispecific Antibody Immunotherapy, Research Suggests

Understanding what it is and how it functions in the expanding universe of immune therapies provides the backdrop for introducing revolutionary treatments like Columvi. Heralded as the maiden “bispecific antibody” to be approved for the fixed-duration treatment of relapsed or refractory DLBCL, Columvi represents a leap forward in combating this form of lymphoma. What is immunotherapy? This therapy comes into the picture when patients with DLBCL have already undergone two other treatment types, addressing a pressing need for effective alternatives, especially when initial treatments are unsuccessful.

How Does Columvi Work?

The immune system boasts Y-shaped proteins known as antibodies, designed to neutralize external threats, from viruses to certain cancer cells. Once introduced to an antigen, these antibodies can remember and defend against it in future encounters. However, traditional monoclonal antibody drugs are tailored such that both ends of the ‘Y’ attach to a singular type of antigen. In contrast, bispecific antibodies, like Columvi, are masterfully engineered, allowing each tip of the ‘Y’ to latch onto a distinct antigen. This ability to target two receptor sites instead of one greatly amplifies its versatility in treatment.

For Columvi, this dual-target approach means connecting to CD3 receptor sites found on T cells and CD20 receptor sites on B cells. In doing so, it effectively transforms a patient’s T cells into formidable cancer-fighting entities.

According to Gwen Nichols, MD, from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, while the primary therapy for DLBCL proves effective for many, a significant portion, around 40%, either relapse or face refractory disease. In these scenarios, the availability and tolerance of second-line options, including CAR-T and other chemotherapy or immunotherapy regimens, might not be feasible, especially considering the primary demographic affected is older patients. 

Benefits of Immunotherapy

What is immunotherapy, and why is it gaining such traction in the medical community? Immunotherapy is a promising field of medicine that uses the body’s natural defenses to fight diseases. It offers several potential benefits, making it an attractive option for treating various conditions, particularly cancer. Here are some of its key advantages:

  1. Targeted Action

Unlike some conventional treatments, immunotherapy often focuses on specific molecular targets, ensuring a precision-driven approach that reduces the risk of damaging healthy cells.

  1. Memory Response

Some immunotherapies, especially vaccines, can train the immune system to remember and swiftly respond to malignancies if they recur, offering long-term protection.

  1. Minimally Invasive

Many immune therapies are administered through injections or infusions, eliminating the need for surgical interventions in some cases.

  1. Potential for Fewer Side Effects

As immune therapies target specific aspects of the immune response, they often have fewer side effects than broad-spectrum treatments like chemotherapy.

  1. Flexibility and Combination Therapies

Immunotherapy can be used with other treatments, offering a multifaceted approach that can enhance efficacy and improve patient outcomes.

Side Effects and Risks of Immunotherapy

While immunotherapy holds significant promise, it’s important to understand that, like all medical treatments, it also comes with potential side effects and risks. What is immunotherapy’s safety profile? Here’s an overview:

  1. Autoimmune Reactions

By boosting the immune system, some therapies can cause it to mistakenly attack healthy cells and tissues, leading to autoimmune conditions.

  1. Cytokine Release Syndrome (CRS)

Especially associated with treatments like CAR T-cell therapy, CRS is a systemic inflammatory response resulting in symptoms ranging from mild fevers to severe cardiovascular or neurological issues.

  1. Organ Toxicitie

Some immunotherapies can lead to organ inflammation, such as hepatitis (liver inflammation) or pneumonitis (lung inflammation).

  1. Flu-like Symptoms

Common side effects of certain immunotherapies include fatigue, fever, chills, and muscle or joint pain.

  1. Infusion Reactions

Some patients might experience allergic or infusion reactions during the therapy administration, leading to symptoms like shortness of breath, rash, or dizziness.

Tips for Patients Considering Immunotherapy

While utilizing the body’s natural defenses is exciting and empowering, patients must approach this treatment option with knowledge, understanding, and support. Here are some key tips for patients considering immunotherapy:

  1. Consultation is Key

Conversing with your oncologist about immunotherapy’s potential advantages and drawbacks tailored to your specific cancer type and stage is vital.

  1. Self-Education

Equip yourself with the knowledge to make informed health decisions. This includes engaging in reading and attending patient seminars. Also, prioritize reputable sources such as renowned cancer centers or academic institutions when researching.

  1. Managing Side Effects

Be aware of the common side effects of immunotherapy. More importantly, always understand when it’s essential to contact a healthcare provider if a symptom appears or intensifies.

  1. Lifestyle Adjustments

Consider diet, exercise, and mental health roles while undergoing treatment. Maintaining a balanced diet, staying active, and focusing on mental well-being can positively impact this period.

  1. Join Support Groups

Engaging with others who have experienced or are undergoing immunotherapy can provide immense support and shared coping strategies.

  1. Stay Updated

As immunotherapy is fast-evolving, regularly checking for new advancements and available treatments will ensure you’re always informed of the latest options.