Targeted Cancer Therapies
Targeted therapies use drugs or other substances that specifically target cancer in ways that attempt to minimize harm to healthy cells. For instance, exploiting the metabolic characteristics of cancer using nutritional therapy is a targeted natural therapy. Using drugs that exploit certain genetic processes within a cancer cell is another from of targeted therapy. Scientists are also working on gene-editing techniques that can reverse inherited genes that are flawed or ones that have mutated into a cancer causing form. One of the most promising targeted therapies is called Immunotherapy. It is science that has been around since the 1970’s that trumpeted a new era of effective cancer therapy to be just around the corner––but it never materialized.
Immunotherapy uses various drugs that can promote cancer cell death, block a cancer cell’s ability to divide, inhibit a tumor from forming new blood vessels, and even activate the body’s immune system to attack the cancer. The later one––I believe, holds the greatest promise of finding a substantial cure for cancer, and it will be discussed in more detail later in this section.
According to the National Cancer Institute, Immunotherapy exploits a number of biological mechanisms in the body using monoclonal antibodies, cytokines, therapeutic vaccines [such as Dendritic Cell Therapy], the bacterium Bacillus Calmet-Guérin, cancer-killing viruses, gene therapy, and adoptive T-cell transfer1 [CAR-T-cell Therapy].
The cancer industry and the government have been over promising major breakthroughs in cancer for decades, however in the area of immunotherapy they have accomplished some improved outcomes. The most recent generation of immunotherapy drugs are extending life in certain types of cancers, namely non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and Leukemia.
An example of a successful outcome using Immunotherapy is with former President Jimmy Carter. In 2015, President Carter announced that he was fighting metastatic melanoma that had spread to his liver and brain. Doctors first treated him surgically by removing a tumor from the liver. Then he received four rounds of chemo and radiation therapy directed at spots on his brain. Subsequently, he entered into a clinical trial and received an investigational drug called Pembrolizumab, also known as Keytrudra. This drug has since been approved by the FDA and is in wide usage. Pembrolizumab is a monoclonal antibody that binds to a receptor on cancer cells allowing the body’s immune system to destroy the cancer. This drug is also being used on advanced non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) patients.
President Carter responded to the treatment and his cancer went into remission. Other than President Carter, only a small group of people in the trial responded to the drug2––the rest of them died.
Immunotherapy drugs are not unlike other chemo drugs and come with serious side effects. Cancer can adapt to Immunotherapy drugs just like they can with off the shelf chemo agents. There is also a serious risk that these drugs may trigger an autoimmune response, resulting in the immune system attacking normal cells and organs and causing potentially debilitating side effects and even death. According to the American Academy of Dermatology,
Targeted therapy has been shown to extend life in many patients with advanced melanoma, but the effect is short-lived, as patients typically experience a recurrence of the disease. Although immunotherapy works for fewer individuals, it provides a more long-term response when it does work.3
There you have it. The latest generation of Immunotherapy drugs might work in a limited fashion for some, but not for most others.
Another targeted therapy that is gaining wider use is preventive vaccines that attack virus related cancers. For example, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted virus in Western countries and can cause cervical, genital, anal, and oropharyngeal cancers. The vaccines developed for HPV have proven to be very effective in preventing cancer.
There is also a vaccine to prevent Hepatitis B, which causes liver cancer. Although this vaccine can help prevent cancer, it was not very effective when used with a group of cancer patients in a Phase III clinical trial. It only prolonged life by an average of four-months.4
In comparison to pharmacological Immunotherapy, less harmful alternative medicine Immunotherapy has been studied and successfully used in clinical settings in Europe for a number of years. One of these therapies is called Dendritic Cell Therapy (DCT), which is an Immunotherapy that is similar to a vaccine. DCT will be discussed in detail shortly.