Be cautious regarding cancer immunotherapy

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Sir, Andrew Ward, your pharmaceuticals correspondent, writes of “a new field of cancer medicine called cellular immunotherapy” (“Juno IPO highlights latest buzz in US biotech”, December 18) and states that “this involves extracting blood from patients and re-engineering the disease-fighting T-cells in a way that enhances their ability to destroy tumours”. He goes on to say this is the hottest new area of cancer treatment and that the company, Juno Therapeutics, will have a large IPO based on this new technology.

However, engineering patient T-cells to target tumours is hardly new, and generated similar hype in the 1980s. The cancer immunotherapy was then known as LAK (lymphokine-activated killer) cell therapy of cancer, using patient T-cells, then as now. This type of therapy failed due to lack of efficacy and high toxicity. Caution should be taken with cancer immunotherapy since cancer is from within, not without, despite persistent claims to “cancer-specific proteins”.

Robert M Hoffman

Professor of Surgery,

University of California, San Diego, US

President, AntiCancer Inc

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