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Diagnostics Liquid biopsy, Precision medicine, Oncology, Technology and innovation

Fine-Tuning Immunotherapy

At a Glance

  • Cancer immunotherapy can be very effective, but many patients do not respond to such treatments
  • Immunotherapy’s poor efficacy in these patients is largely due to the imprecision of methods intended to predict who will benefit
  • Because of the treatment’s limited success rates and potential severe side effects, oncologists should determine its efficacy as early as possible and adjust treatment accordingly
  • Droplet digital PCR technology, which directly quantifies the concentration of circulating tumor DNA, can help

In a field that does not see breakthroughs often enough, immunotherapies have revolutionized cancer care. Instead of the broad, untargeted effects and acquired resistance patients experience with toxic chemotherapy and gene-targeted therapies, immunotherapies can promote a tumor-directed response wherein the patient’s own immune system fights off the cancer. When it works well, patients can achieve deep, long-lasting responses (1).

However, immunotherapies do not work in all patients. This is because the chosen therapy often doesn’t fully address the reason the patient’s cancer has escaped their immune system. The efficacy of checkpoint inhibitors, for example, varies widely across different cancer types, ranging from 15 percent in small-cell lung cancer to 85 percent in Hodgkin’s lymphoma (2,3). Furthermore, immunotherapies can produce severe immune-related adverse effects in patients. And that’s why it’s critical to select the proper therapy for each patient – and to confirm that the patient is seeing a benefit as early as possible after treatment begins.

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About the Author

George Karlin-Neumann

George Karlin-Neumann is the Director of Scientific Affairs at Bio-Rad Laboratories’ Digital Biology Center.

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