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Is Immunotherapy the 4th Pillar of Oncology?

October 28, 2016
In contrast to the three traditional pillars of cancer treatment (surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy), cancer immunotherapy is a relatively young field, yet it is considered a huge game-changer - as it is in the process of changing how we treat cancer.

Immunotherapy is rapidly becoming part of the toolbox for treatment of various types of cancers, in some cases already establishing a new standard of care. Take the example of melanoma which will have about 76,000 new diagnosed cases in 2016 alone with a 5-year survival rate of 17% for metastasized melanoma. Immunotherapy-based treatment shows substantial improvement as demonstrated in long-term follow-up studies which showed a marked increase in the 5-year survival rate of over 30%.

We are indeed at a watershed moment when it comes to how doctors, clinicians, and patients view cancer and our most promising emerging approaches for treatment. At the same time, we find ourselves only at the beginning of understanding the underlying human target biology and the detailed mechanisms of action of this novel class of drugs. It is absolutely critical in this fast evolving environment to stay updated on the latest developments, opportunities, challenges, and solutions.
At the PMWC 2017 Silicon Valley on January 23-25, thought leaders in the field come together to help you stay up-to-date on what needs to be known when it comes to immunotherapy. We have dedicated six sessions for a total of 6 hours to Immunotherapy at our upcoming Precision Medicine World Conference (PMWC) 2017 Silicon Valley:

  1. Immunotherapy: Emerging Applications and Therapies

  2. Immunotherapy: Immunocheckpoint Inhibitors & Beyond

  3. Predictive Biomarkers and Companion Diagnostics for Immuno-Oncology

  4. Clinical Trials in Immunotherapy

  5. Issues and Challenges of Immunotherapy

  6. How Immuno-oncology Saved My Life: The Patient/Caregiver Perspective

While in recent years, exciting progress in understanding how to redirect the immune system to effectively recognize and attack cancerous tissues and cells was followed by critical drug approvals including various PD-L-1 and PD-1 inhibitors, atezolizumab [Tecentriq, Genetech/Roche, for bladder cancer treatment], nivolumab [Opdivo, BMS, for the treatment of melanoma, squamous cell lung cancer, renal cell carcinoma, and Hodgkin lymphoma], and pembrolizumab [Keytruda, Merck, for melanoma, metastatic non-small cell lung cancer and head and neck squamous cell carcinoma], some formidable obstacles remain.
One of the key questions in Immunotherapy relates to the fact that only a subset of patients across tumor types responds effectively to these novel treatments.  Successful patient selection and stratification, long-term cure rates, relapses, and efficacy profile in relapse patients remain largely unknown. However, as more and more patients are treated with this novel class of medicines, we will continue to gain knowledge about the potential risk profile (e.g. autoimmune diseases), as well as how to most effectively use these medicines, alone or in combination treatments, to achieve maximum efficacy.