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Lung Cancer: Cutting-Edge Treatments

Learn about some of the latest therapies developed to treat lung cancer -- and raise survival rates.

Antibody Therapy for Lung Cancer

Your immune system does not see cancer cells as a threat, destroying them like it does viruses, bacteria, and foreign tissue. But the immune system can be trained to attack tumors, and researchers have taken the first steps toward creating lung cancer drugs that work this way.

One approach is called "targeted antibody therapy," where the immune system recognizes a molecule called an antigen on the surface of an invader, creates an antibody which latches onto the antigen, then destroys the invader.

This works because some cancer cells have antigens that don't show up on the vast majority of normal, healthy cells. And because the body doesn't naturally make antibodies against these cancer antigens, scientists have.

Andrew Scott, MD, head of the Melbourne, Australia branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, has tested an antibody that targets the tissue which supports a tumor. In a phase I clinical trial -- a study that tests a drug's safety -- people with advanced lung cancer or colon cancer were injected with the antibody. Then, using special dyes, researchers tracked where the antibody went.

What they found were "very high concentrations in the cancer but very low concentrations in any other normal tissue," says Scott, meaning the antibody targets tumors specifically and that treatment will likely cause little damage to healthy cells.

Scott says he expects to begin a phase II study by late 2007, which will test how well the antibody treatment works. Besides prompting the immune system to attack, antibodies might also be used to deliver a "payload" drug directly to cancer cells, or to interfere with cellular communications, he says.

With many antigens unique to lung cancer cells, some researchers believe it's vital to develop as many antibodies as possible. This way, says Sacha Gnjatic, PhD, a researcher at the Ludwig Institute's New York City branch, "if one antigen somehow escapes immune system, you can target another one."

Gradually, experts hope, lung cancer survival rates will rise.

Published March 13, 2006.

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Reviewed on March 13, 2006

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