Nov 17, 2016

The future is bright...the future is immunological!


Recently, the British Society of Immunology (BSI) turned 60, and ROAD was invited to join the celebrations and learn about the evolution of immunology since the days of plastic bowls, nose clips and ECG machines.

Although no strangers to the medical industry, particularly in the education and promotion of new medical devices and drugs as they come to market, the meeting provided a unique opportunity to expand our understanding of the advances in medical research and where immunology is heading…

To demonstrate how far medical R&D has come, Peter Openshaw, President of the BSI shared a personal story about a time when he was investigating an unknown milky substance extracted from a baby’s abdomen. He watched as his mentor picked up the glass, sniffed it and then took a gulp before proclaiming ‘it’s not milk’!

Thankfully, for scientists and clinicians, research methodology in immunology has moved on and life changing discoveries and new therapies are evolving rapidly. When the NHS began, only two vaccinations were available, today the NHS protects against 20 infectious diseases1 and immunology is advancing towards immune based therapies and break-through cures.

Breakthroughs in immunology 

One such break-through in immunology is cancer. Recent news stories2 this week predicted that ‘half a million people will be diagnosed with cancer every year by 2035’. Despite such worrying statistics, there was a real sense of optimism amongst BSI members around cancer immunotherapy, proclaimed as the ‘science breakthrough of the year!’1. Immune therapy works by stimulating the immune system to trigger an infection which fights the cancer. Trials have shown that the therapy can fight cancer more powerfully, whilst also improving longer-term protection for patients and fewer side effects -  creating a soar in interest from pharmaceutical companies1.

‘Cancer MoonShot’3 is one such US initiative to find a vaccine based cure for cancer by 2020. The collaborative programme seeks to accelerate immunotherapy as the next generation standard of care in cancer patients. Randomized Phase II trials will take place in patients at all stages of disease in 20 tumour types in 20,000 patients. Findings will inform Phase III trials with the aim to develop an effective vaccine-based immunotherapy to combat cancer - quite a challenge to say the least but one which offers hope to many.

Another area receiving attention in the press and the immunology world is Alzheimer’s1. To date there is no known cure but evidence is building around the impact of the immune system and its role in degenerative diseases, so it will be interesting to see how research evolves, particularly given the challenges facing an unsustainable and cash-strapped NHS.

Whatever the investment and research required over the coming years to increase the portfolio of therapies, one thing which was consistent across the board was the need to reduce the ‘time lag’ between lab to patient. Much of this can be attributed to a lack of clinician scientists which prevents access to a healthcare setting. Patient access is still something many reported as a recurring challenge, so new ways of trialing drugs are needed to improve the speed of getting new therapies to launch. Charities and patient groups were mentioned as one pathway which could improve access in the future.  

Although sadly we’re not scientists involved in the development and delivery of drugs to patients, ROAD has vast experience in healthcare education and promoting new medicines to healthcare professionals, regulators and patients. Get in touch to learn more about how we might be able to help you.