The Cancer Research Institute has named June as Cancer Immunotherapy Month™ and ECPC is joining the movement and is focusing its efforts on immuno-oncology therapies, a type of immunotherapy which uses the body’s own immune system to fight cancer.
What is ECPC doing in immuno-oncology?
ECPC recognises the huge potential that immuno-oncology therapies may bring to cancer patients across Europe.
ECPC is co-chairing an expert group on immuno-oncology with Mr Philippe de Backer (MEP), with the aim to develop a report recommending actions that EU and national-level policymakers may take to help create a supportive environment for the introduction of cancer innovation in Europe, with a particular focus on immuno-oncology therapies. The expert group includes representatives from the European Society of Medical Oncology (ESMO), the European Cancer Organisation (ECCO), the Association for Cancer Immunotherapy (CIMT) and the ‘Win Health’ Foundation, as well as leading oncologists and patient organisations from across Europe.
The proposed report will be launched at the European Parliament in late 2014.
ECPC is also embarking on the development of an Immuno-Oncology Academy. The Immuno-Oncology Academy (IOA) is a joint initiative of ECPC and the oncology research community to create a reliable, simple source of information regarding immuno-oncology, targeted at patients and general practitioners, in order to raise awareness on the potential of immuno-oncology and to clear any doubts and misconceptions about it. The main outcome of the IOA will be a website designed primarily to target patients following the principles of usability and transparency.
What are immuno-oncology therapies?
Immuno-oncology therapies are an innovative cancer modality that work by using the body’s natural immune mechanisms to fight tumour cells, in the same way the body fights other illnesses.
A number of innovative immuno-oncology therapies have shown unprecedented results in terms of durable response (survival) with minimum side-effects. Many more of these therapies are in clinical development, targeting some of the most difficult-to-treat cancers where 5-year survival rates have traditionally been very low.
‘Breakthrough of the year’
Immuno-oncology therapies were called the ‘breakthrough of the year’ by Science magazine in 2013. They represent a promising area where research has shown that patients can survive beyond the 5-year survival rates that are currently the benchmark in cancer.
They are increasingly being recognised as the fourth pillar of cancer treatment – alongside surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Yet immuno-oncology therapies differ from conventional therapies in several important ways:
They target the immune system, not the tumour – and may be applied to nearly all cancer types as a result.
They are specific: they train the immune system to recognise and target only cancer cells, resulting in fewer side effects.
They have the potential to offer long-term survival – they ‘educate’ the immune system, leading to protection against cancer cells for a long time.
What does this mean for cancer patients?
Immuno-oncology therapies have shown lasting results (survival), often for several years, in patients who previously had very poor prognosis with existing therapies. Many more agents are currently undergoing clinical trials, targeting some of the most difficult-to-treat cancers. All aim to offer patients quality, long-term survival.
Immuno-oncology therapies are currently being investigated in clinical trials to treat the following cancers:
* Bladder * Colorectal * Kidney * Lung
* Melanoma * Pancreatic * Ovarian * Prostate
 Eggermont AMM. Can immuno-oncology offer a truly pan-tumour approach to therapy? Annals of Oncology 2012; 23 (Suppl 8) viii53-viii57.
 Couzin-Frankel J. Cancer Immunotherapy. Science 20 Dec 2013; vol. 342: 1432-3. http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6165/1432.full
 Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program (SEER). Stat Fact Sheet. Melanoma of the skin. http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/melan.html.