Researchers from the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center may have come up with a strategy that would allow them to eliminate the side effects associated with immunotherapy. Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that leverages a patient’s own immune system to fight and kill cancer cells. It is a type of biological therapy used to treat a wide variety of cancers including breast cancer, brain cancer, bladder cancer, colorectal cancer and cervical cancer.
Unfortunately, immunotherapy can also cause side effects such as fever, dizziness, weakness, joint or muscle aches and fatigue. In some cases, the treatment can cause severe side effects such as kidney failure, inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), hepatitis and colitis.
The recent study found that a soluble molecule called IL-21, which plays a role in immune system activation, could reduce the side effects caused by immunotherapy treatment. Researchers discovered that CXCR6+ IFN-γ cytotoxic CD8+ T cells, which is a group of immune cells that attack and kill harmful cells, may also be involved in the autoimmunity that results in negative side effects. IL-21 was found to be capable of controlling the activity of CD8+ T cells. Furthermore, the researchers discovered that blocking IL-21 activity prevented autoimmune responses.
Dr. Melissa Lechner, study author and David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA assistant professor of medicine in the division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, explained that the study was the first research to look deeply into the cause of checkpoint inhibitor thyroid autoimmunity.
Despite the encouraging success rates of checkpoint inhibitor treatment in cancer, the treatment can also cause the immune system to attack healthy tissues in up to 60% of patients. In some cases, these symptoms can be severe enough that they interrupt the treatment, cause hospitalizations and even result in death.
Figuring out a way to eliminate these side effects is crucial if clinicians want to reduce the risks associated with immunotherapy and significantly increase its success rates. As it stands, we have no way of treating or even reversing the endocrine immune side effects that occur during checkpoint inhibitor therapy. This means that some patients can come out of the treatment with permanent organ damage and require consistent hormone replacement therapy for the rest of their lives.
When the team of researchers collected thyroid specimens from patients and ran those samples through single-cell RNA sequencing, they found that inhibiting IL-21 reduced autoimmune toxicities in immunotherapy and eliminated checkpoint inhibitor-associated thyroid autoimmunity. Their findings point to a potential therapy that could eliminate some side effects from checkpoint-inhibitor treatment and make it safer for patients.
Many other entities such as BiondVax Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (NASDAQ: BVXV) are devoting considerable resources to the field of immunotherapeutics for various illnesses. As these efforts bear fruit, patients stand to enjoy better clinical outcomes, and they could face fewer side effects from the treatments prescribed by their healthcare providers.
NOTE TO INVESTORS: The latest news and updates relating to BiondVax Pharmaceuticals Ltd. (NASDAQ: BVXV) are available in the company’s newsroom at https://ibn.fm/BVXV
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