Colorectal cancer is a significant health concern in the United States, with over 150,000 new cases and 52,000 deaths predicted this year. While early detection improves treatment prospects, advanced cases remain highly lethal.
Immunotherapy, a cutting-edge cancer treatment leveraging the body's immune system, has shown promise. Yet, most colorectal cancer patients have not benefited from it. However, a small-scale study in Oncogene offers hope: experimental immunotherapy administered before surgery resulted in 80%-90% cancer cell destruction and reduced recurrence risk.
Twelve patients with advanced colon and rectal cancers, not yet metastatic, received a combination of Agenus immunotherapies: botensilimab and balstilimab. These drugs target immune evasion mechanisms in tumours. Due to post-surgery infection risks from treatment-induced inflammation, patients received a reduced dosage.
After surgery, tumour analysis revealed an "inside-out" response, with immune cells infiltrating and effectively attacking the tumour. Many tumours showed inflammation and reactive changes, rather than viable tumour cells, indicating a lower recurrence likelihood.
Remarkably, these patients, similar to 85% of colorectal cancer cases, typically unresponsive to immunotherapy, exhibited positive results. The study also hinted at reducing or eliminating post-surgery chemotherapy.
The study has limitations, reporting results from only two patients and lacking comparisons to other treatments. Full results for all 12 patients are forthcoming, with future trials planned for comprehensive analysis.
This study isn't the only one showing promise with this immunotherapy combo. Earlier, it tripled one-year survival rates for metastatic colorectal cancer patients, outperforming standard care. Fast-track FDA designation expedites approval, and larger clinical trials are ongoing. Agenus prioritises commercialising this combo, recognizing its potential to transform cancer treatment.