Cancer and the immune system

Immunotherapy is emerging as the core medical platform for the treatment of cancer.  The key focus of immuno-oncology has been to greatly enhance the patient’s immune system so it is better able to eliminate cancer.

The Cancer Research Institute in the USA has nominated immunotherapy as “the greatest advance in cancer treatment since the development of the first chemotherapies in the late 1940s.”  Breakthrough technology based on decades of rigorous research now means that the immune system killer cells can be engineered to strategically “seek and destroy” cancer cells.

Cartherics proposes to “super charge” the immune system by genetically engineering artificial genes encoding cancer-targeting structures linked to cell activation signals into the immune systems two prominent killer cells: T cells and NK cells. This multi-platform approach combines the best components of immune defences, with CAR technology revolutionising cancer therapy:

  • The immune system has evolved to protect the body from infections by identifying foreign “non‐self” molecules, (antigens) on the invading viruses, bacteria, fungi, parasites etc.
  • Why don’t the same mechanisms readily apply to killing cancer cells?
  • The main reason is that during their development, T cells, which have a single specificity receptor for antigen, are carefully screened in the thymus (the organ which produces them) and selected for those which can recognise foreign antigens and reject them. The T cells which could recognise normal “self” molecules are eliminated. This is called “self-tolerance”.
  • Cancer cells employ a number of mechanisms to escape immune detection and attack. They thrive, in part, because they are either (i) too close to being “self” and are not recognized as foreign, (ii) overwhelm the minimal cancer specific immune system or (iii) trick the immune system into treating them as self, even though they may express abnormal antigens. Thus, a form of immune tolerance to the cancer occurs.
  • Cancer cells nan also actively suppress the immune response by upregulating surface molecules which switch off T cells and NK cells and induce production of regulatory T cells that block cytotoxic T-cells that would normally attack the cancer.

Herein lies the dilemma: cancer is essentially a disease of “self” and therefore evades immune attack. Cartherics is working to overcome this obstacle.