Approval of new cancer drugs show way ahead for research at Discovery Park

Posted on 17/06/16

Scientists carrying out pioneering work at Discovery Park have welcomed the approval of new cancer drugs that harness the body’s own defences to fight disease – but say the story for this type of treatment has only just begun.

The field – known as immunotherapy – is one of the most exciting in cancer treatment with site tenants Agalimmune and Centauri Therapeutics among those working on potential therapies.

This week the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) approved a pioneering pair of cancer drugs that unleash the immune system on tumours.

The decision to approve the drugs is one of the fastest in NHS history and is likely to lead to them being adopted throughout the UK.

In trials the combination therapy shrank the most aggressive and deadly type of skin cancer in 69 per cent of patients.

The pair of drugs - Ipilimumab and nivolumap - stop cancers from hiding and allow the immune system to attack.

Ten years ago patients with advanced and aggressive melanoma lived for an average of nine months. But two years after being given both drugs, more than half experience tumours shrinking.

Mike Westby, CEO, Centauri Therapeutics, described today’s announcement as a ‘paradigm shift’ in the treatment of melanoma, but said there was a lot more work to be done in the fight against cancer.

“Firstly, it is great news for UK patients in urgent need of effective treatments for metastatic melanoma,” he said

“Secondly, the results on which the NICE approval is based demonstrate the potential benefits of designing therapies that harness the power of the immune system to fight cancer.

“The combination of ipilimumab and nivolumab (which are members of the ‘immune checkpoint inhibitor’ class of immunotherapies) is consistent with the emerging paradigm that multiple immunotherapies can sometimes synergise when combined into a single regimen - leading to much better responses than is seen when either agent is given on its own.

“Whilst today’s announcement represents a paradigm shift in the treatment of melanoma, more progress is needed in the fight against cancer.

“For example, not all cancers appear to respond as well as melanoma to immune checkpoint inhibitors and current scientific thinking suggests that drugs acting on different parts of the patient’s immune system may be essential components of an optimal immunotherapy regimen.

“Furthermore, whilst effective in the majority of melanoma patients, immune checkpoint inhibitors are associated with a high incidence of significant side effects, which may make it difficult for some patient groups to tolerate them.

“Through our Joint Venture with Horizon Discovery plc (Avvinity), Centauri will therefore continue to develop its Alphamer platform for cancer indications where immunotherapy regimens can be most effective.”

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