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expert reaction to paper reporting a case of breast cancer being treated by T cell immunotherapy, published in Nature Medicine

A paper in Nature Medicine details the case of a woman with metastatic breast cancer who was given T cell immunotherapy and is now cancer free.


Prof Alan Melcher, Professor of Translational Immunotherapy at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and Consultant Oncologist at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said:

“This fascinating and exciting study in a single breast cancer patient provides a major ‘proof-of-principle’ step forward, in showing how the power of the immune system can be harnessed to attack even the most difficult-to-treat cancers.

“The researchers here identified tumour-specific antigens, which can be naturally recognised by the patient’s immune system, albeit ineffectually.  They then harvested immune cells from the patient’s own tumour, known as tumour infiltrating lymphocytes, which could recognise these antigen targets, and expanded and activated them in the laboratory.  The cells were then given back to the patient, together with an established ‘immune checkpoint inhibitor’ antibody type of immunotherapy, which is already known to work in other types of cancer such as melanoma and lung cancer.  The combination of cells and antibody treatment, led to dramatic shrinkage of the patient’s tumour.

“While this study focuses on just a single patient, and the feasibility of this complex approach remains to be established within the wider clinical world, this treatment represents a remarkable success in terms of translating our basic biological understanding of how the immune system responds to cancer, into a real treatment of real benefit for this particular woman.”


Prof Peter Johnson, Professor of Medical Oncology, Cancer Research UK Centre, Southampton General Hospital, said:

“This is another piece of evidence confirming that some cancers are recognisable by the body’s immune system and that if this can be stimulated in the right way, even cancers that have spread to different parts of the body may be treatable.  This particular technique is highly specialised and complex, meaning that it will not be suitable for many people, but it is exciting because it shows how the immune cells already inside cancers may be switched on and made to work better.”



* ‘Immune recognition of somatic mutations leading to complete durable regression in metastatic breast cancer’ by Nikolaos Zacharakis et al. was published in Nature Medicine on Monday 4 June 2018. 


Declared interests

Prof Peter Johnson: “I have no conflict of interest here.”

None others received.

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