Hallmarks of a New Era

Mike Hennessy
Published: Thursday, Sep 01, 2016
Mike Hennessy

OncLive Chairman,
Mike Hennessy

The past 5 years have been a whirlwind of fresh developments in the field of anticancer immunotherapies, and there is certainly no doubt that we have entered a new era of oncology care.

These changes, however, extend far beyond the new therapies that have been approved and even beyond the exciting novel approaches under study. Indeed, the emphasis on immunotherapy has expanded and sharpened our understanding of malignancies beyond a focus on the tumor cell itself toward the microenvironment in which cancers flourish.

Now, that knowledge has hit an important inflection point with the creation of the Immunoscore, an assay that stratifies the state of a patient’s immune system by evaluating the T cells that play such a vital role in it. The implications of this new tool are discussed in the cover story in this issue of OncologyLive, “Prognostic Tool for Immuno Age Debuts.”

The research presented at the 2016 ASCO Annual Meeting indicates that the Immunoscore can correlate wih an individual patient’s response to therapy and may be useful in guiding treatment choices not only for the checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy agents revolutionizing oncology but also for chemotherapy and radiotherapy. At this point, the Immunoscore has been validated in colon cancer but similar markers have been noted in nearly 10 other tumor types.

Although more studies must be conducted, it seems clear that the Immunoscore or a similar assay will become part of routine oncology practice in the next several years. When that happens, it will truly be an advance for patients.

The bulk of the credit for the development of this new assay goes to the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC). These are the same scientists who tenaciously nurtured the idea of checkpoint inhibitors as a strategy for unleashing the patient’s immune system against cancer even amid much skepticism.

When SITC leaders could not find industry partners willing to take on development of this assay, they formed a network of cancer centers throughout the world to conduct the research.

There’s been much discussion about the “hallmarks of cancer” during the past 15 years following the publication of 2 seminal papers by Robert A. Weinberg, PhD, a Giant of Cancer Care award winner, and Douglas Hanahan, PhD. Perhaps some of the most important hallmarks of this new era of oncology will be ingenuity and perseverance.

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