Immunotherapy - NFCR Cancer Research Focus Area



What is Immunotherapy?

The immune system is the body’s defense against disease as it recognizes and destroys any foreign material that could cause harm. In some instances, the immune system can recognize cancer cells as abnormal and kill them; in others, the cancer evades the immune system wreaking havoc in our bodies.

In recent years, some of the most promising advances in cancer research involve immunotherapies – treatments that use the immune system to fight diseases like cancer. By finding new ways to help the immune system recognize cancer cells – specifically in solid tumors, and strengthen its response to destroy them, researchers are looking for long-lasting solutions to cure cancer.

NFCR Research Highlights

Dr. Paul Fisher discovered a powerful cytokine, IL/24, or immune system modulator that destabilizes both primary and metastatic cancer cells resulting in direct killing or indirect toxicity through activation of the immune system and inhibition of angiogenesis. IL/24 gene therapy is effective against many types of solid tumors and he has developed innovative ways to deliver IL/24 gene therapy to the body including adoptive cell therapy. Dr. Fisher and Dr. Web Cavenee are first advancing IL/24 gene therapy for the deadly brain cancer, glioblastoma or GBM.

The new immunotherapy called checkpoint inhibitors—that unleashes the brake on our immune system to recognize and fight cancer cells—is successful in some cancers but not in treating GBM. Dr. Rakesh Jain’s research is focused on combining anti-angiogenic treatment with the immunotherapy of immune checkpoint inhibitors to enable the inhibitors to effectively fight GBM.

In collaboration, NFCR-funded scientists, Dr. Paul Schimmel and Dr. Xiang-Lei Yang discovered that the vital protein synthesis enzyme, SerRS, has critical anti-cancer properties. In complex tumor models of triple negative breast cancer, not only does SerRS shut down angiogenesis, it may activate the immune system to suppress cancer progression and metastasis.  This research may lead to a novel treatment for breast, brain, rectal, esophageal, kidney lung and thyroid cancer.

Dr. Laurence Cooper, a pediatric oncologist and scientist who received NFCR support for 11 years, is a pioneer in developing adoptive immunotherapy. This novel approach called ‘CAR-T Cell therapy’ first collects cancer patients’ T cells (our white blood cells of our immune system) and engineers the cells in the laboratory to express an antenna-like molecule called CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) that recognized antigens (proteins) on cancer cells. Once infused back to patients, the CAR-T cells have enhanced cancer-fighting capacity and stimulate patient’s immune system. His research has helped advance the new promising immunotherapies using CAR-T cells for leukemia and lymphoma patients.

Related Content

New Treatment with Combined Immunotherapies is Effective for Drug Resistant Metastatic Lung Cancer

Exercise Training May Slow Tumor Growth and Improve Immunotherapy Outcomes in Breast Cancer Treatment

Exercise plays an important role in preventing a variety of cancers. A recent study has increased the importance of maintaining a well-balanced and active lifestyle – indicating a positive outlook for many breast cancer patients.  National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR)-funded scientist Dr. Rakesh Jain, and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that exercise training may slow tumor growth and improve outcomes for females with breast cancer – especially those treated with immunotherapy drugs. Immunotherapy drugs are treatments that use the body’s immune system to fight diseases like cancer. The research team identified this occurrence to be caused by stimulating naturally occurring immune mechanisms.   The team reached this conclusion in animal models of breast cancer, which showed physical activity increasing levels of cancer-fighting immune cells. Tumors in mouse models of human breast cancer grew more slowly in mice put through their paces in a structured aerobic exercise program than in sedentary mice. The tumors in exercised mice exhibited an increased anti-tumor immune response. Perhaps the most exciting finding of the study was that exercise training brought immune cells capable of killing cancer cells into tumors. The tumors grew more slowly in mice that performed exercise training. Dr. Jain has been an NFCR partner since 1998. He is a renowned world expert in understanding how changes in the microenvironment surrounding tumors affect the immune system, drug delivery, treatment efficacy, and patient survival–with additional expertise in chemical engineering. In addition to his fellowship with NFCR, Dr. Jain is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Medicine. He is the ninth person ever to be elected to all three U.S. National Academies. He is also a Fellow of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Academy. Throughout his career, Dr. Jain has also been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards. Including the 2012 Science of Oncology Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the 2016 National Medal of Science from the President of the United States, Barack Obama. He received the Medal of Science for developing new ways to manipulate tumors. Dr. Jain and his team at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School were able to complete this game-changing research utilizing funding from NFCR. NFCR is dedicated to providing scientists in the lab the funding they need to make game-changing discoveries in cancer treatments, detection, and ultimately, to discover a cure for all types of cancer.  Support innovative and life-saving research findings like the work of Dr. Jain with NFCR. Additional Reads You May Enjoy: NFCR-Supported Researcher Leads Study Aiming to Understand Which Patients May Respond Best to Immunotherapy Immunotherapy: Fighting Cancer and More? Cancer Research Applied to Develop COVID-19 Treatment Strategies Stay connected with the cancer community! Receive our monthly e-newsletter and blogs featuring stories of inspiration, support resources, cancer prevention tips, and more. Sign up here.

Natural Killer (NK) Cell-based Treatment Demonstrates Its Potential to Become an Effective Novel Cancer Therapy

Natural Killer (NK) cells are specialized lymphocytes that play critical roles in the immune response against abnormal cells, including all kinds of cancer cells. Different from T cells that need to be pre-activated by antigen-presenting cells before gaining the killing power, NK cells can quickly respond to a wide variety of cancer cells and kill them “naturally” without any prior antigen-presenting activation. Furthermore, NK cells can secrete several special molecules or immune-enhancing cytokines that act on other types of immune cells, such as macrophages, to strengthen the attack on cancer cells. Therefore, NK cell-based treatment approaches are gaining increased attention in the field of cancer immunotherapy. Recently, impressive data from a phase I clinical trial of NK cell-based therapy was presented at the virtual Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) by a research team from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Cord blood-derived natural killer (cbNK) cells were used in the trial to treat recurrent or refractory CD30-positive lymphomas, and the results showed that the objective response rate is 100% amongst the four patients enrolled, which is very encouraging although the trial is still in its initial stage. The researchers strengthened the cancer-killing capability of NK cells by arming them with “biological weapons” AFM13 engagers. These AFM13 engagers are bispecific antibodies that are able to specifically and simultaneously bind target molecules CD30 on leukemia/lymphoma cells and NK-activating receptors CD16A on various types of NK cell. The groundbreaking clinical trial on these AFM13 pre-complexed NK-cells demonstrates that the bispecific engager AFM13 has the potential to help NK cells target and destroy cancer cells not only more effectively—but also safely. No major or common side effects, such as cytokine release syndrome, neurotoxicity syndrome, or graft-versus-host disease, were observed during the trial. Inspired by the positive clinical trial results, the research team, led by Dr. Katayoun Rezvani at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, is planning to further develop the NK cell-based treatment into an effective novel cancer therapy for treating lymphoma, leukemia, and solid tumors in the future. Additional Reads You May Enjoy: Lymphoma is Largely Gone After Covid-19 Infection: demonstrating the Power of the Immune System Catching Cancer Cells on Their Way to Spreading 3 Important Tips For Immuno-Oncology Drug Treatment If you feel the information is helpful, please sign up for our e-newsletter here and or make your generous gift here so that we can continue to bring such information to you and keep you connected with the cancer research community. References: 1. Affimed Announces Presentation at AACR Highlighting Initial Data from Phase 1 Study of Cord Blood-derived Natural Killer Cells Pre-complexed with Innate Cell Engager AFM13. Intrado GlobeNewswire, April 9, 2021. 2. Combining AFM13, a bispecific CD30/CD16 antibody, with cytokine-activated cord blood-derived NK cells facilitates CAR-like responses against CD30+ malignancies. Clinical Cancer Research, May 13, 2021;