Phillip Minton M.D.

New Immune Therapy Cancer Treatment Drug Approved

In immune system, prostate cancer on June 15, 2011 at 9:06 am

For nearly a decade now I have written intermittently on the progress of the Dendreon Corporation, as it labors to develop cancer treatment drugs that use the immune system to kill living cancer cells. The FDA recently approved their flagship drug, Provenge, as an approved treatment for prostate cancer.

Dendreon had a tough time gaining approval for this drug. The reason tells us something profound about the nature of the relationship of cancer to the immune system. Dendreon’s problem was the the FDA had difficulty establishing that the drug actually works to any extent that could fit the FDA requirement that a drug be effective. Hard to believe that after huge sums and years of effort, Dendreon was only barely able to prove to the FDA that their immune-based cancer drug was effective enough to be worthy of agency approval.

The reason that Dendreon has had such a tough time of it as they struggle to find ways to get the immune system to attack living cancer cells is based on the inherent design of the immune system. The immune system is designed to attack foreign invading organisms (such as viruses, bacteria and fungi) plus dead or nearly dead cells of the body. However, the immune system is programmed not to attack our own cells unless they are dead or nearly dead. When the immune system goes “haywire” it can sometimes attack our own body, leading to some nasty “autoimmune diseases”.

Dendreon therefore has a difficult task, finding ways to get the immune system to attack cancer cells (which are unfortunately recognized by the immune system as our own cells) even though the immune system is programmed not to attack its own body cells. The fact that Dendreon has made some progress in this arena is laudable, but obviously we need far more research before we have truly effective drugs that work by causing the immune system to attack living cancer cells.

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