BMS researchers are trying to understand these immune-evasive mechanisms, in the hope that they can block them, and allow the body to eliminate the cancer on its own. This topic was recently discussed in Scientific American.
For instance, human cells have what’s called “immune checkpoint receptors,” which put the brakes on the immune system and prevent it from attacking healthy cells. One of these receptors, known as PD-1 (programmed death-1), alerts the T cells to suppress the immune response, which prevents the body from attacking itself in a healthy person. However, some tumors are able to stimulate the production of PD-1, causing the T cells to become exhausted and lose their ability to fight the cancer.
Not every cancer cell works this way, however, meaning that treatment that inhibits a tumor’s ability to rely on checkpoint receptors will only work in some patients. Researchers are trying to locate the biomarkers in cancer cells, so they can determine the most effective treatment.
“Ideally, when a patient is first diagnosed with cancer, we’ll be able to do an analysis on their tumor, identify these biomarkers in the tumor microenvironment, and determine a personalized course of treatment,” says Saurabh Saha, head of translational medicine at BMS. “We’ve already started doing this to some extent for checkpoint inhibitors, but to see the field expanding with more biomarkers and treatment options is an exciting step towards precision medicine for more patients.”