What Is a Checkpoint Inhibitor?


Immune checkpoint inhibitors are drugs – often made of antibodies – that unleash an immune system attack on cancer cells. They’ve scored some impressive successes in recent years, particularly in some patients with metastatic melanoma or Hodgkin lymphoma, and are showing promise in clinical trials involving patients with other types of cancer. Checkpoint inhibitors seek to overcome one of cancer’s main defenses against an immune system attack. Immune system T cells patrol the body constantly for signs of disease or infection. When they encounter another cell, they probe certain proteins on its surface, which serve as insignia of the cell’s …

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Science Illustrated: How Is Immunotherapy Used to Fight Cancer?

checkpoint inhibitors, immunotherapy

Immunotherapy, including the vitally important discovery of PD-1/PD-L1, is one of the most promising areas of cancer research today. One immunotherapy strategy  is to use checkpoint inhibitors to “take the brakes off” the immune system and unleash an attack on cancer cells. Learn about PD-1 and PD-L1, and how immunotherapy can be used fight cancer:

Immunotherapy, Targeted Drugs, Brain Cancer Research Among Highlights at Cancer Meeting

Gordon Freeman 150

Eagerly awaited new data from trials of immunotherapy drugs, vaccines to treat brain tumors, and improved treatments for blood cancers sparked waves of optimism at the year’s biggest cancer meeting. The 2015 annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) drew about 30,000 cancer specialists to Chicago May 29 – June 2. Immunotherapy, which uses drugs to block immune “checkpoints” such as PD-1 and PD-L1, allowing the patient’s immune system to attack cancer cells, drew standing-room-only audiences as researchers reported updated results in studies of melanoma, lung cancer, and brain cancer. Investigators from Dana-Farber and Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer …

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How the Body’s Immune System Can Fight Cancer

F. Stephen Hodi, MD

Immunology is one of the most promising areas of cancer treatment today. Immunotherapy drugs, which use the patient’s own immune system to fight cancer cells, have been effective in treating several forms of the disease, including melanoma, prostate cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma, and certain types of brain tumors. The immune system has natural stopping points when fighting against bacteria and infection, which prevent the system from going after the body’s own cells and tissues. However, these “brakes” prevent the immune system from successfully attacking cancer cells and tumors. Immunotherapy drugs block those brakes, allowing the immune system to fight and destroy …

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The Science of PD-1 and Immunotherapy

The science of PD-1 and immunotherapy

This is a story about the velocity of an idea – a discovery whose potential to improve cancer treatment practically leapt from the test tube. The groundwork was laid in the 1990s, when scientists learned that human cells carry certain proteins on their surface that enable them to escape attack from the body’s immune system. That was followed by the discovery by Dana-Farber scientists that many cancer cells wear one of those same proteins, called PD-L1 – part of an elaborate masquerade that allows the cancer cells to live and multiply without harrassment from the immune system. The implications of …

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From Foe to Friend: Viruses Show New Promise as Cancer Treatment

SMALL Cancer Immunology & AIDS Team
Harvey Cantor

Almost as long as scientists have known of the existence of viruses, they’ve dreamed of using the tiny pathogens as a weapon against cancer. Now, as a result of advances in genetic engineering and insights into the workings of the immune system, science is giving substance to the dream. A variety of studies over the past few years have demonstrated the ability of specially modified viruses to attack and kill cancer cells – in the laboratory and, very recently, in some patients. Techniques vary from study to study, but the basic approach is to inject the viruses directly into tumors …

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New Immunotherapy Vaccines Show Promise in Treating Brain Tumors

David Reardon, brain tumors

Researchers in Dana-Farber’s Center for Neuro-Oncology are now launching attacks on glioblastomas from a new angle – by turning the patient’s immune system against the cancer cells. Where targeted chemotherapy uses drugs to disable proteins that cancer cells need to grow, immunotherapy drugs stimulate the patient’s immune system to recognize and kill cancer cells. Traditional drugs and even targeted chemotherapy agents have had little success in treating glioblastoma – the deadliest type of brain tumor. “Immunotherapy represents a great hope for patients currently facing this disease,” says David Reardon, MD, clinical director of the Center.  “We’re anxious to move this approach …

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New Immunotherapy Drug for Melanoma Wins Approval

Stephen Hodi, MD

The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new type of  immunotherapy drug that will provide a much-needed option for patients with advanced or inoperable melanoma who no longer respond to other drugs – including the immunotherapy agent ipilimumab (Yervoy). The drug, pembrolizumab or MK-3745, will be marketed under the name  Keytruda. Based on impressive performance in clinical trials, the FDA had designated pembrolizumab a “breakthrough therapy” and placed it on a fast-tracked approval process. “This drug is exciting because of its really striking response rate and good indications that these responses are durable” for a least a year, says Patrick Ott, MD, PhD, clinical …

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Melanoma: Five Things You Need to Know

Stephen Hodi, MD

Although skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, melanoma accounts for less than 2 percent of all skin cancer cases. The disease, which will be diagnosed in around 76,000 Americans in 2014, is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. Melanoma begins in the melanocytes, which are found on the lower part of the epidermis. The disease can occur anywhere on the body and usually begins in a mole. “It is important that people protect themselves from the sun and make themselves aware of the signs and symptoms of melanoma to greatly reduce their risk of …

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Cancer Immunology at Dana-Farber

Immunotherapy – stimulating the body’s defenses to recognize and destroy disease-causing cells and proteins – was dubbed the “breakthrough of the year” in 2013 by Science magazine. Dana-Farber researchers have contributed many important discoveries over the years about how the immune system works. Now, they are building on these insights to develop immunotherapy against tumors – known as immuno-oncology. In 2005 Dana-Farber established the Cancer Vaccine Center (CVC) under the leadership of Ellis Reinherz, MD, Jerome Ritz, MD, and Glenn Dranoff, MD. The mission of the CVC is to translate the promising insights from basic immunology into therapeutics that benefit …

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