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."
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