Update About Immunotherapy Drug Pembrolizumab

UCLA scientists have discovered that people with cancers containing genetic mutations JAK1 or JAK2, which are known to prevent tumors from recognizing or receiving signals from T cells to stop growing, will have little or no benefit from the immunotherapy drug pembrolizumab. This early-stage research has allowed them to determine for the first time why some people with advanced melanoma or advanced colon cancer will not respond to pembrolizumab, an anti-PD-1 treatment.

In previous findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine, UCLA researchers analyzed pairs of tumors before a person underwent immunotherapy treatment and after relapse. Ribas and colleagues discovered that one of the tumors lost a gene called B2M, which changed how the body’s immune system recognized the cancer. The loss of gene B2M caused JAK1 and JAK2 to function improperly by preventing the immune system from attacking the cancer.

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Dr. Stegall’s Comments: While immunotherapy is a hot topic in cancer research these days, I remain unconvinced that it is the panacea some claim it is. While we must enhance the immune system as part of our cancer treatment, cancer is not merely an immune system deficiency. Simply “stimulating the immune system” is not going to work, as a revved up immune system does not necessarily kill cancer better and can also trigger autoimmune conditions such as thyroiditis, colitis, and numerous skin conditions, to name a few. The above study illustrates that immunotherapy has a long way to go, and my hunch is that it will never prove to be the “cure” for cancer. What I believe will prove to be the best approach to cancer is this: an integrative approach, using the best aspects of conventional and alternative therapies which target different aspects of cancer cell formation, growth, and development.

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