Why the Future of Cancer Immunotherapy Looks Bright

Scientist at work in a laboratory

By Staff Reports

(DGIwire) – Cancer immunotherapy is a field of medicine that aims to identify treatments for cancer by enhancing the human body’s immune response. According to a recent review article in Frontiers of Immunology, this form of treatment has witnessed a surge in interest in recent years and is likely to transform the treatment of many human diseases over the next two decades.

According to the article, however, a major roadblock to the effectiveness of immunotherapy involves the existence of so-called “checkpoints” that exist on the surface of immune cells—structures that prevent those immune cells from attacking cancer cells with full force. Although various antibodies have the ability to inhibit these checkpoints—and thus allow the immune cells to unleash their power on cancer—their use in combination can generate unwanted side effects. As a result, the article reports, the future of cancer immunotherapy likely lies in the combination of existing immunotherapy with other types of drugs.

“An array of research suggests that combination treatments in cancer could be the way to go,” says Douglas J. Swirsky, President and CEO of Rexahn Pharmaceuticals. “In fact, we have obtained specific study results indicating that this approach could lead to better treatment in indications such as metastatic pancreatic cancer, advanced bladder cancer and triple negative breast cancer.”

In fact, Rexahn is studying a compound named RX-3117 in metastatic pancreatic cancer and advanced bladder cancer and a compound named RX-5902 in triple negative breast cancer.  Broadly, RX-3117—which has been granted orphan drug designation—can bind with an activation enzyme found only in cancer cells. Once activated, this compound travels into a cancer cell’s nucleus where it is incorporated into the DNA and RNA, resulting in the cell’s death. This approach differs from traditional chemotherapy, which non-selectively kills both cancer cells and normal healthy tissue in the body.

Studies to date indicated that in addition to killing cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact, RX-3117 has shown few severe adverse events and allows oral dosing. It may also be able to work in tandem with existing therapies and facilitate a spectrum of anticancer activity.

Meanwhile, RX-5902 binds to a key protein that is also found primarily in tumor cells and only in very small amounts in normal tissue. By doing so, RX-5902 turns off cancer genes, resulting in a decrease in cancer cell growth and metastases, and an increase in the body’s immune system’s ability to fight cancer.

“The coming years are likely to see a stream of breakthroughs in which approaches to immunotherapy are combined to selectively target tumors in a way that has never been possible before,” Mr. Swirsky adds.

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