Immuno-oncology drug development is complex and requires a thorough understanding of both the immune system’s role in cancer development and the unique challenges associated with evaluating therapeutic response.
Over the past decade, immuno-oncology has become one of the most promising and fastest-growing areas of cancer research and drug development. Present-day advances in immuno-oncology can be attributed to a paradigm shift in the understanding of cancer.
Up until the late 1990s and early 2000s, cancer was considered a disease of genetic origin, with hallmarks including sustained proliferation, resistance to apoptosis, the ability to promote angiogenesis, and the ability to promote invasion and metastasis. However, this view failed to take into account the dynamic nature of the interactions between the tumor and its microenvironment – not just the normal cells in the surrounding tissue, but also the immune system.
Advances in our understanding of the dual role that the immune system plays in cancer have led to the development of immunotherapies that target both the tumor and its microenvironment. In this white paper, we explore the role of the immune system in cancer development, as well as the history and challenges of developing immunotherapies for cancer.
The history of cancer immunotherapy dates back to the discovery of the dendritic cell in the 1970s. In the early 1990s, Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG), a vaccine used to prevent tuberculosis, was approved as an immunotherapy for early bladder cancer. This was followed by the approval of high-dose interleukin (IL)-2 for melanoma and renal cell carcinoma and the discovery of checkpoint inhibitors.