Patients with advanced colorectal cancer can benefit from treatment with advanced immunotherapy, known as immune checkpoint inhibitor PD-1/PD-L1, scientists have discovered. The findings provide new hope for colorectal cancer patients and more broadly demonstrate the incredible potential for immunotherapies to extend life and treat all forms of cancer.

If chemotherapy fails, patients with microsatellite stable (MSS) metastatic colorectal cancer have historically had few options. However, while scientists have previously believed that MSS was resistant to treatment with immunotherapies, researchers at City of Hope, a world-renowned research and treatment centre for cancer, have established that treatment can be effective, but only if the cancer hasn’t spread to the liver.

In a peer-reviewed paper recently published in JAMA Network Open, researchers describe how ninety-five patients with MSS metastatic colorectal cancer reacted after receiving immune checkpoint inhibitor PD-1/PD-L1. The therapy was given only once their disease became resistant to chemotherapy. The researchers tracked the progression of their condition to assess the impact of treatment.

“When we stratified the patients by the presence or absence of liver metastases, we noted that about 20% of patients without liver metastases had a major response to anti-PD-1 or anti-PD-L1 therapy, while none of the patients with liver metastases experienced a positive response,” said co-author Marwan Fakih, M.D., the Judy & Bernard Briskin Distinguished Director of Clinical Research at City of Hope.

In simple terms, the researchers found that 20% of patients whose cancer hadn’t spread to the liver benefitted, with the drugs slowing disease progression from one and a half months to four months. Conversely, those whose cancer had spread to the liver demonstrated no benefit from treatment with PD-1/PD-L1.

Researchers are hopeful that PD-1/PD-L1 could soon be used to treat some MSS patients. “Colorectal cancer patients without liver metastases could benefit from immunotherapy considerably more than patients with liver metastases,” said Fakih.

The research demonstrates the rapidly developing landscape for advanced therapeutic medical products (ATMPs), including immunotherapies. Recent research and breakthroughs, including those made by RGCC scientists, offer new hope for cancer patients.

RGCC is at the forefront of developing new cancer immunotherapies, including VAXO-Q-RE, an advanced combination therapy that consisting of five types of immune cells, including macrophages, NK cells, dendritic cells, cytotoxic T lymphocytes and antibody-producing plasma cells. Recent research has established the effectiveness of VAXO-Q-RE at treating breast cancer cells, with clinical trials already being planned.

While immunotherapies hold great promise for tomorrow, receiving an accurate and early cancer diagnosis is the best way to improve outcomes. At RGCC, we offer a range of personalised genetic tests that can help your clinician diagnose your cancer. Tests, such as our Metastat RGCC, can accurately determine a secondary cancerous tumour, including its potential location. Clinicians can use the critical insights to drive care and ensure the right combination of treatments.

You can learn more about RGCC’s range of cancer tests, including how your clinician can arrange them, here.

You can read the full paper, Clinical Response to Immunotherapy Targeting Programmed Cell Death Receptor 1/Programmed Cell Death Ligand 1 in Patients With Treatment-Resistant Microsatellite Stable Colorectal Cancer With and Without Liver Metastases, here.