Part II in a series of interviews with the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA.
Dr. Philipe Armand, Director of Clinical Research for Lymphoma at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute is an expert in Lymphoma research and especially immunotherapy for lymphoma. At the request of the Rybacki family, funds raised from the 2018 Rybacki Golf Memorial Tournament were allocated to lymphoma research. In the following article, we interview Dr. Armand about his clinical research program at Dana-Farber to get a basic overview of how immunotherapy is being applied to cancer treatment programs and ultimately, to patients.
Over the last decade, Immunotherapy has been heralded as a breakthrough treatment in the world of oncology. A branch of immunotherapy is the concept of checkpoint blockade therapy. Checkpoint blockade therapy regulates the immune responses so that the tumors can’t use these pathways to protect themselves and hide; the system doesn’t go into overdrive and instead responds appropriately to the threat.
“This therapy is revolutionary, because it uses the fact that the immune system can recognize cancer cells as different from healthy cells, which allows it to attack the cancer cells directly,” said Dr. Armand. “Treatment is largely based on antibody drugs that target pathways used by cancer cells to hide from the immune system. By targeting those pathways these drugs improve the immune response against the cancer”.
Immune checkpoints are critical in the body’s self-defense system. Dana-Farber physician-scientists such as Dr. Gordon Freeman and Dr. Stephen Hodi recognized that cancer cells were outsmarting the patient’s auto-immune system, by disguising themselves in order to hide in the body. If the immune system is unable to identify the tumors, then the body can’t fight back.
In talking about the benefits of immunotherapy, Dr. Armand said “this therapy is very different from chemotherapy, which kills cells directly, usually by interfering with cell division. Checkpoint blockade therapy in contrast has an overall safer toxicity profile. However, while it doesn’t have the same side effects as chemotherapy, it can be associated with autoimmune side effects which must be recognized and treated”.
Checkpoint blockade therapy has now moved beyond the first wave of clinical trials and oncologists have found it to be particularly effective in Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and one subset of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. It is now FDA-approved for routine clinical care, thanks in part to the work of researchers at Dana-Farber.
Dr. Armand signs off, “I am extremely privileged to work at Dana-Farber for a number of reasons. First, it feels like place where the mission is lived. The mission of helping patients feels palpable to all the staff, researchers and to the patients themselves. Second, being in Boston we have the privilege of being surrounded by outstanding resources and colleagues, with wide access to top-notch research universities and institutes, hospitals and the biotech world. This makes Boston an outstanding place in which to try to advance the field of oncology”.
Thanks to everyone who has been involved in the Rybacki Memorial Golf Tournament. This year marks its 26th anniversary. We hope to see you at the 2019 Tournament, which takes place on September 27th at The Haven Country Club in Boyston, Mass. For further information about the tournament, contact email@example.com