Cancer immunotherapy -- using the body's own immune system to fight tumor cells
-- may be a major part in a cure for cancer, researchers in Britain say.
Bent Jakobsen, the Danish-born chief scientific officer of Immunocore who
started to study T-cells 20 years ago while working at the Medical Research
Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England, says cancer has
been largely treated by slicing (surgery), poisoning (chemotherapy) or burning
(radiation). All try to spare healthy tissue from irreparable damage while
attempting to kill every cancer cell.
"Immunotherapy is radically different," Jakobsen told The Independent
exclusively. "It doesn't do away with the other cancer treatments by any means,
but it adds something to the arsenal that has one unique feature -- it may have
the potency to actually cure cancer."
Immunocore built a therapy around cellular immunity, where T-cells seek out and
destroy invading pathogens, The Independent reported.
"There are a lot of companies working with antibodies but we are virtually the
only company in the world that has managed to work with T-cells. It has taken 20
years and from that point we are unique," Jakobsen said.
Immunocore found a way of designing small protein molecules, which it calls
ImmTACs, that effectively act as double-ended glue. At one end they stick to
cancer cells, strongly and very specifically, leaving healthy cells untouched.
At the other end they stick to T-cells, Jakobsen said.
The technology is based on the "T-cell receptor," the protein that sticks out of
the surface of the T-cell and binds to its enemy target.
"Although T-cells are not very keen at recognizing cancer, we can force them to
do so. The potential you have if you can engineer T-cell receptors is quite
enormous," Jakobsen said.
"You can find any type of cell and any kind of target. This means the approach
can in theory be used against any cancer, whether it is tumors of the prostate,
breast, liver or the pancreas."