Fondation Merieux

A family foundation dedicated to fighting infectious diseases

Fondation Mérieux has organised an international meeting called ’New frontiers in cancer immunotherapy’

11 July 2007, Annecy (France)

From the ninth to the eleventh July, in the conference center of the Fondation Mérieux Les Pensières (Annecy), international research experts in the field of immunotherapy against cancer have attended the meeting 'New frontiers in cancer immunotherapy'. The meeting was organised by the Fondation Mérieux and Sanofi-Pasteur and the steering committee including Hyam Levistsky, Neil Berinstein and Ethan Shevag.

This scientific symposium brought together experts fro, around the world to present and debate the latest progress in fundamental and clinical research related to the immunotherapy of cancer.

Now, a main public health problem in developed and in developing countries, cancers are responsable for seven million deaths per year. There has been increasing research in developing immunotherapy for cancer over the last decade. The principle of the action : to stimulate the immune system of the patient to seek out and specifically destroy the cancer cells.

Since the early 1990s, scientists have identified a lot of substances associated with many different types of cancers. These molecules have become the targets for a variety of cancer vaccines. They are recognised by the molecules of the vaccine and the immune system is activated, especially the T cells, which destroy the tumor.

However it has become apparent that the vaccines alone are not able to fully activate the T cells to mediate useful clinical activity in most situations. The level of activation and effector function of the immune system are regulated by several different pathways. Reagents called immunomodulators including interleukines, interferons, toll-like receptor agonists, and molecules to reduce the inhibitory controls on the immune response including negative signals in T lymphocytes and regulatory T cells) are being studied in the clinic. This conference rewieved the recent results of established and more exploratory immunomodulators in combination with various cancer vaccines.

During the meeting at the conference center of the Fondation Mérieux, the experts in cancer immunotherapy presented the scientific results of the research which evaluated the effectiveness of different associations of vaccines-immunomodutalors on the activation of the T cells.

One team of scientists in the EU have obtained promising clinical results. They have associated vaccination with a molecule which blocks the CTLA4 receptor, one of the main negative regulators of the immune system. They then observed an improvement in the activation of the T cells and the tumor regressed in certains patients.

Other presentations during the meeting have shown the important roles of several immunomodulators in the improved effectiveness of the vaccines against cancers. There was discussion on results showing that : a toll-like receptor agonist was shown to enhance generation of T cells when combined with a vaccine ; the cytokine IL-12 appeared to stimulate the production of subtypes of T cells ; the interferon IFN activate the T cells’activity as well as other immune cells. Manipulating regulatory T cells was identified as an important area for future development and several novel strategies to accomplish this were presented.

Thus, the association of vaccine with immunomodulators appears to be a promising treatment strategy for cancer. The group concluded that it will be important to continue to evaluate current and new immunomodulators with cancer vaccines in well designed clinical trials. The experts were optimistic that such combinations will eventually be provent to have an important impact on controlling cancer.

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