Next-generation cancer drugs boost immunotherapy responses

Jun 5, 2017

By Heidi Ledford

An approach to unleashing immune responses against cancer is showing promise in early clinical trials, and may boost the effectiveness of existing therapies.

The experimental drugs target a protein called IDO, which starves immune cells by breaking down the crucial amino acid tryptophan. IDO can suppress immune responses and rein in potentially damaging inflammation. But it can also halt the body’s natural immune response to cancer and allow tumours to grow unchecked. Some tumours even express IDO to shield themselves from the immune system.

Researchers will present the latest round of clinical data from IDO-inhibiting drugs at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago, Illinois, on 2–6 June. The results add to mounting evidence that IDO inhibitors boost the effectiveness of treatments called immunotherapies, which bolster immune responses against cancer. “It’s almost like you’re taking down a tumour force field,” says Michael Postow, a cancer researcher at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

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