How the next generation of immuno-oncology could help us get ahead of cancer

We may have the potential to change our approach to cancer as we know it.

Getting ahead of cancer is a complex challenge.

But, equipped with emerging technologies, improved methods, and a few decades of accumulated knowledge in oncology we are at the threshold of an exciting new approach. Thanks to a diverse range of novel immuno-oncology therapies, we may have the potential to change our approach to cancer as we know it.

Immuno-oncology isn’t a new concept: in fact, it originated in the 19th century.

But it’s only in the past decade that it’s emerged as a novel treatment approach to fight cancer by harnessing the potential in our bodies’ immune systems.

Across various tumour types that were once thought difficult to treat, immuno-oncology agents have achieved impressive survival improvements. The treatment starts with T cells and NK (natural killer) cells, critical parts of our immune system. These cells produce proteins called ‘checkpoints’, which help prevent our immune systems from acting too aggressively.

However, these checkpoints are often taken advantage of by cancers to prevent our immune system from killing tumours. Using drugs called checkpoint inhibitors, our immune system can attack cancer cells more effectively. The leading type of checkpoint inhibitors target the interaction between the immune checkpoint PD-1 and PD-L1, a protein found on tumour cells.

The range of therapeutic options – and trials to evaluate them – are growing fast, which is encouraging both for patients and the future of oncology research. Currently approved checkpoint inhibitors have changed the treatment landscape, but less than 30% of patients currently benefit from these therapies. More research is needed on potential new targets.

At GSK, our goal is to enable the immune system to target – and potentially cure – all types of cancer.

The CD226 axis is a particularly promising new area for next-generation immuno-oncology therapies. CD226 is a molecule expressed on the surface of T and NK cells. It binds to the CD155 and CD112 molecules found on tumour cells to stimulate an immune response. However, a diverse trio of immune checkpoints – CD96, PVRIG and TIGIT – interfere with this process. The interactions and balance between these checkpoints determine the profile of immune cell activation and, ultimately, anti-cancer immunity. If checkpoint inhibitors block the interaction between CD96, PVRIG and TIGIT with their partner proteins on tumour cells, the immune system may be able to better fight cancer.

GSK has a world-leading portfolio of antibodies that target these specific checkpoints, so we are uniquely positioned to evaluate their potential for patients with multiple different cancers. We are researching various novel combinations, including doublets and triplets.

We’re proud to be at the forefront of research into potential next generation immuno-oncology treatments. This research has potential to improve outcomes for patients, and ultimately help us get ahead of cancer.