One class of immunotherapeutic drugs is known as "checkpoint" inhibitors, and the therapy works by cutting the brake cables on the white bloods cells that are inherently able to kill tumour cells, added Mark Rubinstein, from the University of South Carolina.
Tumour cells often produce suppressive factors which essentially turn the brakes on tumour-killing white blood cells.
However, "what's unique about the new therapy is that in addition to cutting the brake cables on white blood cells, we're providing fuel to them so that they can more effectively kill cancer cells", Rubinstein said.
The new therapy is a combination of a checkpoint drug, nivolumab, with a new and powerful immune stimulation drug, ALT-803.
"It's two completely different types of drugs that have never been combined in humans before. The trial demonstrated that these drugs can be safely administered, and also, there's evidence that it may help patients where checkpoint therapy is not good enough alone," Rubinstein noted.
Patients who have stopped responding to checkpoint therapy may be helped significantly by adding ALT-803.
Pre-clinical studies have shown that ALT-803 activates the immune system to mobilise lymphocytes against tumour cells and could potentially serve as an important component in combination treatments.
"We can reassert control, at least in terms of stable disease, in essentially everybody we've treated so far," said John Wrangle, immunologist at the varsity.
This novel combination is a huge step forward in cancer treatment, he noted.
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