Immuno-oncology Therapeutics and Drug Discovery

Immuno-oncology is an exciting field of research that is focused on developing therapeutics the leverage the immune system to treat cancer. The immune system is a complex network of reactions and responses to cellular injury, infections, or diseases such as cancer and modulating these responses can be used to treat cancer. The immune system has two main immune defenses: innate and adaptive.  Innate immunity includes surface barriers such as the skin and internal defenses such as fever or Natural Killer cells. Adaptive immunity is developed from a previous infection or vaccination and includes T and B cells.

When it comes to the relationship between cancer and the immune system things can go awry. The general cycle should be as follows:

  • The cancer cells release antigens.
  • Antigen presenting cells capture antigens.
  • T cells are activated.
  • T cells are recruited to cancer site.
  • T cells infiltrate the cancer.
  • T cells recognize cancer cells.
  • Cancer cells are killed.

However, cancer cells can overwhelm the immune system for various reasons interrupting this cycle. This could be caused by the cancer cells dividing faster than the immune cells can destroy them or the environment that the cancer cells have established is hostile for immune cells. This is where immuno-oncology comes into play.

The main goals of immuno-oncology therapeutics (immunotherapies) is to stimulate the immune system to be able to identify and selectively attack cancer cells, or mimic components of the immune system in the lab that can be used to restore/improve the immune system. There are many different types of immunotherapies and which would be the best choice for treatment will depend on the type of cancer.

Cellular immunotherapies (CAR-T therapy, TCR therapy, and TIL therapy) and antibody therapies are two types of immunotherapies that are being actively researched today. Chimeric Antigen Receptor T cell (CAR-T) therapy uses a patient’s own T cells that have been genetically altered to have special receptors on their surface to make them more effective. CAR-T therapies work well for blood cancers but are not as effective on solid tumors.  T cell Receptor (TCR) therapy also uses the patient’s own T cells. For this therapy T cells are activated and then equipped with new T cell receptors that will enable them to target specific cancer antigens. Tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) therapy is most affective against melanoma. The principle behind this therapy is harvesting a tumor and isolating TILs from it. The tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes are then infused back into the patient for treatment.

Antibody therapies used targeted antibodies to disrupt cancer cell activity and alert the immune system to target and eliminate cancer cells. “Naked” monoclonal antibodies bind to antigens on cancer cells to disrupt important pathways for cancer cell activity. Conjugated monoclonal antibodies are combined with chemotherapy drugs or radioactive particles to provide a targeted delivery of these treatments directly to the cancer cells.

These are just a few examples of the exciting research that is being conducted in immuno-oncology. Visikol is contributing to the development of immunotherapies by offering a variety of services and assays to help clients further their research in this field. Possible cell-based assays include Immune Cell Infiltration, Cell Mediated Cytotoxicity/ Effector Function, Antibody Penetration, and Immune Synapse Formation. Additionally, Visikol provides its Clients with various multiplexing approaches for histological slide analysis such as fluorescent multiplexing or imaging mass cytometry services. Contact us to work with our Visikol team to identify the best assay and model for your specific research wants and needs.

Figure 1: T cell infiltration within tumor spheroid.  A) 10:1 effector to target ratio B) No T cells.

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