For years, the foundations of cancer treatment were surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Over the last two decades, targeted therapies like imatinib (Gleevec®) and trastuzumab (Herceptin®) —drugs that target cancer cells by homing in on specific molecular changes seen primarily in those cells—have also cemented themselves as standard treatments for many cancers.
But over the past several years, immunotherapy—therapies that enlist and strengthen the power of a patient’s immune system to attack tumors—has emerged as what many in the cancer community now call the “fifth pillar” of cancer treatment.
A Tipping Point in Clinical Development
A rapidly emerging immunotherapy approach is called adoptive cell transfer (ACT): collecting and using patients’ own immune cells to treat their cancer. There are several types of ACT (see the box below, titled “ACT: TILs, TCRs, and CARs”), but, thus far, the one that has advanced the furthest in clinical development is called CAR T-cell