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Could an immunotherapy treatment from Israel cure cancer?

The “clean room” at Immunovative. Photo: courtesy

Ten years ago, Dr. Michael Har-Noy, founder and CEO of a Jerusalem-based startup developing an immunotherapy treatment that could potentially cure cancer, lamented that the fight against the dreaded disease “is a battle we are losing.” Today, Har-Noy’s company is getting closer to turning the tide. In the past decade, Immunovative Therapies has conducted dozens of clinical trials, opened branches in California, Arizona and Thailand, and raised $35 million. But the biggest boost came from the publicity surrounding immunotherapy pioneer Jim Allison, who won this year’s Nobel Prize in chemistry.

Ten years ago, “We couldn’t get a venture capitalist to open a business plan if they saw the words ‘immunotherapy.’ They’d say, ‘That doesn’t work in cancer,’” Har-Noy tells ISRAEL21c. Following Allison’s work that proved immunotherapy’s efficacy, “anyone with ‘immune’ in their name is now able to raise funds,” Har-Noy says.

Indeed, consulting firm Transparency Market Research predicts that the global market value of cancer immunotherapy drugs will reach $124 billion by 2024. Is the excitement warranted? After all, science is filled with promising approaches that don’t pan out in the end. In the case of immunotherapy, the answer seems to be yes. Immunotherapy is the only current mode of treatment that could actually cure cancer, Har-Noy says.

Unlike chemotherapy, which as its name implies uses noxious chemicals to kill cancer cells (along with a lot of healthy ones), immunotherapy enlists the body’s own immune system to do the heavy lifting.

Moreover, while chemotherapy is often effective, it’s not always permanent. If even a single cancer cell survives, it can begin to replicate and start the process of tumor-building all over again. The goal with immunotherapy is to “train” the immune system to hunt down and destroy every last cancer cell, including those in metastatic tumors resistant to chemotherapy.

However, today’s immunotherapy drugs “only work in 20 percent of patients,” Har-Noy says. “And they’re still toxic. That means 80 percent of patients get no clinical benefit but they get the toxicity.”

This article has been republished with permission by www.ISRAEL21c.org. Click here to continue reading.

Brian Blum | ISRAEL21C

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