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Your immune system is the best weapon you have against cancer. But cancer cells are ingenious and hard to defeat. Immunotherapy is a revolutionary new treatment, supercharging your body’s natural defences to find and destroy cancer. Research at the Centre for Cancer Immunology underpins the development of three main areas of immunotherapy: direct targeting antibodies, immunomodulation: checkpoint blockade and co-stimulation, and cancer vaccines.
Direct targeting antibodies
Our scientists are engineering monoclonal antibodies that can target specific proteins on the surface of cancer cells. By understanding exactly how antibodies lock on to cancer cells and then trigger the immune system to destroy them, we can supercharge new immuotherapies. One such antibody, developed in Southampton in collaboration with pharma: “ofatumumab” is licenced for use in the clinic, joining several others that are effective in treating lymphomas.
We are researching new combinations of immunotherapy drugs which have the ability to overcome the resistance of cancer cells to the immune system. Using antibodies that specifically block negative signals and boost positive signals to anti-cancer killer T cells can dramatically restore immunity to cancer. Southampton researchers were involved in developing the first of these so-called checkpoint blockade immunotherapies which have been so successful in clinical trials that they are now available as first-line treatments for certain cancers.
Vaccines have been used to prevent infectious disease for many years and they are now being used to treat cancer. Sometimes, cancer does not provoke an immune response, accounting for the poor responses to checkpoint blockade immunotherapy in some cancers. Vaccination could help to rectify this situation and Southampton researchers were the first to trial DNA-based vaccines against cancer. This has led to new generations of vaccines which will be used in combination with immunomodulatory antibodies.
Professor Peter Johnson, Professor of Medical Oncology, University of Southampton
Our new treatments in the form of vaccines and antibodies direct special immune cells against cancers. These ‘killer’ cells can control and shrink cancer and give long-lasting protection.