Cancer and the immune system

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

The Cancer Research Institute in the USA (CRI) 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 supercharged and engineered to strategically “seek and destroy” cancer cells.

Cartherics proposes to “super charge” the immune system by engineering cancer finding Ab genes into the killer T cells – combining the best components of immune defences. These are called Chimeric Antigen Receptor T (CAR-T) cells.The immune system has evolved to protect the body from invading germs by identifying these foreign bodies through “non‐self” molecules (antigens).

  • Foreign antigens stimulate the immune system to reject them. Normal molecules in your own body are recognized as “self” and are not rejected. This is called “self tolerance”.
  • Occasionally mistakes happen and the body rejects “self”; this is called autoimmunity.
  • The most important component of the immune system is T cells. They develop in the thymus and migrate to the blood stream. Without T cells you die of infection. T cells also constantly survey the body for any abnormal cells and are thus an important natural defence against cancer.
  • T cells either directly kill infected, abnormal or foreign cells or instruct other cells (B lymphocytes) to make soluble antibodies (Abs) to identify and bind to the offending molecules (antigens).
  • T cells are extremely important but can only recognize protein antigens; Abs can recognise any form of antigens such as sugars, carbohydrates, lipids, glycoproteins.
  • Cancer cells employ a number of mechanisms to escape immune detection and attack. Cancer cells thrive in part because they are either (i) too close to being “self” and are not recognized as foreign, (ii) overwhelm the cancer specific immune system or (iii) trick the immune system into treating them as self, even though they express abnormal antigens. Thus a form of immune tolerance to the cancer occurs. Overcoming these deficiencies is an important aspect of most immuno‐oncology‐based therapeutics because it enables the immune system to recognize and treat tumours as non‐self and leads to tumour destruction, ideally without attacking normal cells.
  • Additionally, cancer cells can suppress the immune response by production of regulatory T cells that block cytotoxic T cells that would normally attack the cancer.
  • T cells are very good at killing cancer cells but are often poor at finding them because there maybe no “foreign” proteins expressed. Antibodies (Abs) are very good at finding cancers because they can bind to many types of abnormal molecules, but most have very limited killing ability.