Immunotherapy still unaffordable treatment option for cancer patients in India

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Immunotherapy is still unaffordable treatment option for scores of cancer patients in India, said Dr Vijay Agarwal, Consultant, Medical Oncology, HCG.

Accompanied by intensive maintenance, this prolonged course of treatment is economically unviable option. In India, chemotherapy stills remains to be the most preferred and prescribed kind of treatment in cancer. Immunotherapy is yet to penetrate and gain prominence, he added.

However, immunotherapy is considered to be a breakthrough innovation in cancer care treatment in advanced cancers. There are numerous clinical trials in the recent past to implement immunotherapy. The studies have proven that this has been by far, one of the most effective therapy available for advance stages of cancer treatment prescribed for definite cancer types. This is primarily because immunotherapy is the process of activating the immune cells to fight against cancer cells, stated Dr Agarwal.

Immunotherapy is a personalised treatment, intended to enhance the body’s own defence’s mechanism to combat and destroy cancer cells. It uses natural substances, or cells made by our own body, or treatments made in a laboratory to improve or restore immune system function.

The reprogramming of the immune system in a patient’s body is through three-pronged strategy. First is administer drug therapy against specific targets such as PD1/PD-L1. The second is adoptive T cell transfer technology. Third is use of cancer vaccines. In the first type, the drugs given boost the immune cells of the body to destroy cancer cells. Adoptive T cell transfer therapy involves the usage of T-cells, which fight infection are removed from the blood, later modified in laboratory and injected to the patient’s body to treat cancer cells. Cancer vaccines when injected, triggers the immune system to recognize and destroy that antigen or related materials, thus killing the cancer cells and put an end to their progress.

Now immunotherapy is planned for a patient either through a permutation and combination of these procedures based on the patients’ response. Being a high end procedure conducted only on advance cases of cancer, Immunotherapy turns out to be an expensive treatment, he explained.

As of now, immunotherapy has been successful among patients advanced stages of lung cancer, head & neck cancer, kidney cancer, bladder cancer and skin cancer. While research is on-going to explore various possibilities to treat different types of cancers for decades now. The biggest success has been with treatments known as immune checkpoint inhibitors improving the ability to destroy cancer cells, stated Dr Agarwal.

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