Harnessing the body’s immune system to transform cancer care

Immuno-oncology based therapy, directed at the immune system rather than the tumour itself, is a novel approach that is demonstrating potential as a therapy option in many types of cancers including lung cancer.1

Cancer cells are known to be able to “hijack” naturally occurring immune checkpoints that normally shut down the immune response after it has dealt with a recognised threat, such as the presence of tumour cells.2 One of the mechanisms by which tumours can avoid detection by the body’s immune system is by disrupting the normal checkpoint activities, thus suppressing the immune system’s ability to react to the cancer cells.2 Instigating a blockade of the checkpoint through immuno-oncology based therapy, may help restore the immune system’s ability to recognise and attack the cancer cells.2

Data from clinical programmes suggest that only patients with specific biomarkers such as PD-L1 respond to currently approved immuno-oncology therapies, while unfortunately many patients do not.3 This variability in response reflects the broad range of ways the immune system responds within individual cancer patients.

Cancer therapies are being investigated for use singly and in combination with other drugs. By targeting multiple mechanisms in the complex process by which cells become cancerous and elude the body’s defences, combinations of novel anti-cancer compounds have the potential to achieve targeted, durable responses.4 Combinations under investigation include immuno-oncology compounds that are active at multiple immune checkpoints, as well as combinations of immuno-oncology compounds, as well as small molecules targeting genetic mutations.

Examples include TKIs (tyrosine kinase inhibitors) and combinations of small molecules that target different genetic mutations. There is growing clinical evidence that suggest combination approaches can help to improve response to immuno-oncology, and work is ongoing to identify which combinations will work best in which patients.

With a comprehensive immuno-oncology development programme based in novel combination research, AstraZeneca is committed to research focused on harnessing the body’s natural immune system to transform cancer care. By exploring the potential of immuno-oncology, AstraZeneca hopes to uncover new cancer treatments and one day eliminate cancer as a cause of death.


1 Eggermont A, Finn O. Advances in immuno-oncology. Foreword. Ann Oncol. 2012 Sep;23 Suppl 8:viii5. doi: 10.1093/annonc/mds255.

2 Topalian SL et al. Safety, activity, and immune correlates of anti-PD-1 antibody in cancer. N Engl J Med. 2012 Jun 28;366(26):2443-54.

3 Shih K et al. Clinical impact of checkpoint inhibitors as novel cancer therapies. Drugs. 2014 Nov;74(17):1993-2013.

4 AstraZeneca, LabTalk Article. Spotlight on lung cancer: rapid progress with targeted therapies and immuno-oncology. Available at: http://www.labtalk.astrazeneca.com/uncategorized/spotlight-on-lung-cancer-rapid-progress-with-targeted-therapies-and-immuno-oncology/. Accessed April 2016.

ATLAS ID: 965,603.011
Date of next review: March 2017