Immunotherapy Progress at Roswell Park

Monday, June 30, 2014 - 9:42am

Immunotherapy—using the power of the immune system to fight cancer—is a hot topic in scientific research, so much so that it has earned its own month. June is recognized as Immunotherapy Awareness Month.

This kind of treatment holds the promise of destroying cancer cells more effectively and with fewer side effects than other therapies. Recent achievements, including the success of the Gardasil vaccine in preventing HPV and reducing the incidence of cervical cancer, have made headlines around the world.

The science of immunotherapy is actually more than a century old. The first record of a physician noting the power of the immune system against cancer dates back to the late 1800s. Twenty years ago, immunotherapy became a major research focus. More funding became available. But when progress was slow, the public and media lost interest.

In the years that followed, scientists—including many at Roswell Park—continued to work behind the scenes, and their hard work is the reason we’re seeing more progress in immunotherapy now.

Today, Roswell Park’s Center for Immunotherapy is led by Kunle Odunsi, MD, PhD, who is world renowned for his expertise and achievements in immunology. Dr. Odunsi and his team are working to move their findings from the lab to the clinic to help patients directly.

Roswell Park has made several recent advances in immunotherapy, including:

  • The landmark 2012 clinical trial of a dendritic cell vaccine that showed great promise in fighting many kinds of cancer. Dendritic cells are the gatekeepers of the human immune system, defending against bacteria, viruses and cancer. The vaccine we produced enhanced a patient's own cells that were then given back to the patient as a vaccine that helps the body seek out and destroy cancerous cells.
  • A first-of-its-kind vaccine called SurVaxM, used in clinical trials beginning in 2012, that shows promise for treating brain cancer and other solid tumors. The vaccine generates an immune response that forces cancer cells to “turn off” a protein that keeps them alive.
  • One of the busiest interleukin-2 (IL-2) therapy clinics in the United States. IL-2 therapy is the only FDA-approved immunotherapy option for melanoma and kidney cancer.
  • A study of the drug decitabine in treating recurrent ovarian cancer found that combining the drug with chemotherapy could lead to improved outcomes. These findings, the result of research led by Dr. Odunsi, were published in 2014.
  • A 2013 clinical research study of the safety and efficacy of a novel immunotherapy approach to treating advanced melanoma. This investigational vaccine shows promise for treating tumors in patients with stage III/stage IV melanoma, and perhaps other solid-tumor cancers as well.

Our commitment to this field extends to our facilities, as well: our Center for Immunotherapy’s Good Manufacturing Practices Therapeutic Cell Production Facility allows investigators to manufacture clinical products for phase I and phase II clinical trials. Our Immune Analysis Facility and Vector Development and Production Facility play key roles in this advanced research as well.

We look forward to making continued strides in immunotherapy. This research is on the leading edge of science and provides new hope for cancer patients every day.

Learn more about Roswell Park’s Center for Immunotherapy here.