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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Alternative Therapies to Reverse Resistance to Checkpoint Inhibitors

Immunotherapy is transforming our understanding and approach to cancer treatment. Enabling the body’s own immune system to recognise and kill tumour cells has been a major step forward for treating many patients and cancers. For decades, treatment has focused on tumour cells, using surgery to cut them out and radiation to kill them or slow their growth by damaging their DNA. Research breakthroughs from the 1940s brought chemotherapy to the forefront of the armoury against cancer, providing a highly effective method of killing cells that are rapidly dividing. More recently, targeted therapies affecting specific genes and proteins involved in the growth and survival of cancer cells have had a major impact on treatment options and survival.

Although we think of immunotherapy as a very recent innovation, its origins go back a long way. The existence of T cells and their crucial role in immunity was first characterised in 1967, and the activity of dendritic cells and natural killer cells were both identified in the 1970s. Work on monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) and T cell mediated immune responses in the 1980s and 1990s represented a further great leap forward in the understanding of cancer and the discovery of new treatment approaches.

The most promising antibodies currently tested in cancer research are immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICPIs). These have had remarkable success across multiple malignancies, and are the most well-established immunotherapy agents to date, with approvals in many indications and settings. As of December 2020, six anti-PD-1/PD-L1 mAbs had been approved by the FDA, with supplemental indications across 19 cancer types and two tissue-agnostic conditions.

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Dr Marisol Quintero has been CEO of Highlight Therapeutics, formerly known as Bioncotech, since 2013. Dr Quintero has significant experience in technology transfer and venture capital funded life science startups. She was previously Director of Innovation at the Spanish National Cancer Center and Technology Transfer Manager at Fundación Botín, where she supported the successful launch of the companies Life Length and Axontherapix.

Marisol has a degree in Pharmacy from the University of Valencia, Spain, and obtained a PhD from her research studies on metabolic changes triggered by hypoxia at University College London, UK; she also holds an Executive MBA from the Instituto de Empresa, Madrid, Spain. Highlight Therapeutics is a private, clinical-stage company.
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