Scientists find new way to predict risks of immunotherapy: Here's what you need to know about this cancer treatment
The human immune system is constantly working to recognise and eliminate foreign and harmful substances from the body
In recently published research, a group of scientists from the Uppsala University, Sweden have stated that rituximab, a monoclonal antibody drug that is used for cancer immunotherapy, reacts differently with the blood of healthy people and those with chronic lymphatic leukaemia. Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment wherein a patient’s own immune system is stimulated or strengthened to fight cancer cells. Chronic lymphatic leukaemia is a type of cancer that affects the B cells (a type of immune system cell that helps fight against infections) of a person.
In a news release by the Uppsala University, the study authors indicated that this research not only helps in better understanding of how rituximab works and predicting the risks and effects of immunotherapy but also in learning more about monoclonal antibodies without the need for animal studies. The findings of the study are published in the journal International Immunopharmacology.
Immunotherapy and your immune system
The human immune system is constantly working to recognise and eliminate foreign and harmful substances from the body. However, as per the American Cancer Society, cancer cells usually start off as normal cells and hence our immune system is sometimes unable to recognise them. On occasion, the immune cells are unable to mount a strong response against cancer cells and cancer cells may also release certain substances that keep them from being recognised by immune system cells.
This is where immunotherapy comes into play. Through this therapy, healthcare experts improve the body’s natural defence system and/or administer lab-made substances to the patient that boost the anticancer effects of the immune system.
Immunotherapy is of various types, from the administering of immunomodulating drugs or cytokines to stimulate the immune system to fight cancer cells and checkpoint inhibitors to help the immune cells to recognise cancer and tumours, lab-made viruses (oncolytic viruses) to training T-cells (Chimeric antigen T-cell therapy or CART) to fight and kill cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies are also used in immunotherapy. These are antibodies that are prepared to only fight cancer cells without affecting healthy cells.
Rituximab and B cells
Rituximab is a monoclonal antibody that binds to a protein called CD20, which is present on the surface of B cells. After the binding, the drug attracts NK (natural killer) cells to the affected site, helping B cells kill the cancer-causing cells. However, it can also activate something called cytokine release syndrome (CRS), characterised by increased inflammation in the body, which may be life-threatening.
In the latest study, the researchers used whole blood to study the mechanism, safety and toxicity of rituximab treatment in both healthy individuals and individuals with cancer. It was observed that those with B cells only showed some reduction in B cell levels in their body. On the other hand, cancer patients showed reduced CRS along with lower B cell levels.
“The results show that there is a disease-specific immune response when blood and drugs interact. This indicates that the blood loop can be used for individual treatment and preclinical studies to identify and understand the toxicity risks for monoclonal antibody-based drug candidates," said Dr Mark Cragg, co-author of the study, in the news release by the University.
The study authors are now planning extensive clinical trials to better understand the results of the study.
For more information, read our article on Cancer.
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