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Over the last decade, immunotherapy has emerged as an exciting option of care for multiple diseases including cancers, giving hope to millions of patients. Immunotherapeutic approaches harness a patient’s own immune system to selectively target cells, often resulting in a different side-effect profile than traditional, treatment options.
Immunotherapy has two main ways of working, either guiding the body to kill cells or to stop their reproduction and thus they die. The field has grown tremendously over recent years, with innovations such as cancer vaccinations, chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy and immune checkpoint inhibitors, all providing new hope for people with cancers which were previously deemed untreatable. However, despite undoubted potential, these are still new treatment approaches and patient response rates continue to vary, with questions and challenges remaining regarding efficacy, targeting, and toxicity.
While there are obviously still challenges ahead, the pace at which basic discoveries are being translated into practical clinical therapies to improve patients’ lives, has never been as compelling as it is now.
Personalised medicine can help make immunotherapy a first-line treatment option
Based on the existing total body of evidence, presently immunotherapies are often offered only as a second or third line of treatment. However, the development of more advanced diagnostics and decision algorithms means personalised approaches to medicine and the increased understanding of the immune system and biomarkers open the possibility to identify which patients are more likely to respond to immunotherapy rather than traditional treatments. In the future, it might even be possible to determine which patients could benefit from immunotherapy as a form of preventative medicine.
As with all treatments, immunotherapy isn’t right for everyone. It is vital that the scientific community continues to invest in understanding how individuals will respond to different therapies. This is where some of the challenges lie – though scientists have a better understanding than ever before of the how the human immune system works, we are still on a steep learning curve regarding the technology to administer personalised treatments. Through better understanding about how the human body will react to innovative treatments, we can ensure that the patient is truly put at the heart of their care, and of treatment development.
A fascinating angle on CAR-T as an example is that the Intellectual Property is not with the “medicine” but the “methodology” as one can’t patent protect someone’s personal cells, but only how you do gene transduction/transvection. This is a fascinating paradigm shift in the industry. Truly personalised medicine is about the needs of an individual patient at a specific time, while the same medicine might harm another patient if administered. As such, the biggest single hurdle in development has been the security of the cell line from withdrawal to manipulation to re-administration –a critical point to reassure Health Care Professional and patients alike.
Like several other companies, Kyowa Kirin is active in the immunotherapy space and focused on leveraging such technologies for patients.
Personalised medicine for patient-centric care
The opportunities to improve outcomes and personalised care go well beyond medicines. There are exciting new possibilities across the whole care continuum, harnessing novel approaches, such as whole genome sequencing, data and informatics, and wearable technology to help improve diagnosis, treatment and care. It is the convergence and symbiotic nature of these innovations that makes it possible to move to an era of truly personalized care with the patient at the centre of a holistic healthcare approach rather than the Health Care Professional.
It is important to note, however, that ‘personalised healthcare’ alone, does not necessarily imply that it is patient centric. In order to make sure that we achieve the best possible outcomes for patients, it is essential to partner with patients to gather their insights, to inform and empower them to have a meaningful dialogue with their treating physicians about the role that these therapies may play in delivering more value to them while living with a specific disease and in the context of their lives holistically.