University of California San Francisco
Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

Top Trends in Health Sciences for 2014

By | December 18, 2013

Top Trends in Health Sciences for 2014

What areas of research are heating up in 2014? How will patients access health care differently in the coming year?

excerpt from Top Trends in Health Sciences for 2014

2014 Trend: Cancer Immunotherapy

Rather than directly targeting the cancer cells, immunotherapies are focused on driving a cancer patient’s immune system to eliminate tumors. In contrast to conventional cancer treatments, immunotherapies can lead to long-lasting clinical responses.” 

 Lawrence Fong, MD, associate professor of medicine

Conventional chemotherapy for cancer leaves much to be desired.

Currently available compounds kill normal cells as well as cancer cells, leading to serious side effects. The immune system, meanwhile, is remarkably effective at combatting foreign bacterial or foreign invaders while sparing normal cells, but the goal of coaxing immune cells to target cancer has eluded researchers for decades.

But the field has turned a corner over the past several years, as researchers have identified receptors expressed on immune system cells, such as CTLA4 and PD-1, that put the brakes on the immune response. In recent clinical trials of antibodies that block these receptors, doctors have seen unprecedented responses in metastatic melanoma and lung cancer, both of which are almost always fatal with conventional treatments.

Because the immune system has a “memory,” these responses have proven far more durable than those to targeted cancer drugs: Some patients treated at UCSF with anti-CTLA4 therapy for late-stage metastatic prostate cancer are still living more than six years later.