Progress in Research in Oncology and Hematology: this was the theme of the live Facebook stream on Thursday 10 May, which featured Professor Armando Santoro, Director of Humanitas Cancer Center and Professor at Humanitas University, Professor Matteo Simonelli, oncologist at Humanitas and Professor at Humanitas University and Dr. Marianna Rossi, hematologist at Humanitas.


The role of immunotherapy

As Professor Santoro explained: “We have developed and are already in the process of using a series of new drugs that can activate our immune system, allowing cells to attack, fight and in many cases eliminate cancer cells, thus blocking the development of a tumor process at an early stage.

Immunotherapy can act transversally on many (though not all) cancer forms because, rather than hitting the specific cancer cell, it activates our mechanisms of defense against the tumor and is therefore able to carry out a therapeutic action on different types of tumor. The administration is usually intravenous, in day hospital, once or twice a month. It should also be noted that the toxicity profile of this therapy is also extremely favorable: the side effects, although present, are modest and rarely of particular importance.

Immunotherapy represents a fundamental field of development in the future; consider that the new research programs in oncology and hematology are also focused on immunotherapy with favorable results especially in some cancers, such as melanoma. I also see very positive on the activity demonstrated by these molecules even in the preventive phase in patients undergoing surgery: in this phase, in fact, a functioning therapy may be able to not only achieve excellent results in terms of lengthening life, but it could play a key role in increasing the chances of permanent healing. Moreover, in this sense we have very interesting preliminary data.

Prof. Santoro then pointed out that immunotherapy has not replaced so-called precision medicine, but that in some cases it represents an alternative, in other cases a supplement to it: “Immunotherapy has not eliminated hormonal therapy, chemotherapy, target molecular therapies; these treatments continue to work, but we have more and more diseases in which the integration of immunotherapy with biological therapies and chemotherapy is able to bring very positive effects.


New drugs in hematology

“Chronic myeloid leukemia is the prototype of the pathology in which the concept of precision medicine was applied for the first time, developing many years ago an intelligent drug aimed at the genetic alteration responsible for the disease. In recent years, however, scientific research has made it possible to implement knowledge of the genetic basis of blood diseases, developing new drugs aimed at the genetic alteration of the individual disease.

At Humanitas we have sophisticated diagnostic tests that allow us to accurately characterize the genetic structure underlying the disease of each individual patient and quickly we can thus develop a therapeutic strategy that involves both traditional drugs and new drugs to better optimize the care of the individual patient,” said Dr. Rossi.


The steps for the development of a new drug

Professor Simonelli explained what are the phases that lead to the development of a new drug: “The development of a new drug goes through a long process that sees a first phase in which it has the conception of a new molecule and the definition of a therapeutic target (and therefore a biological element on which you want to act to change the disease). This is followed by the actual production of the drug. Then there is a preclinical experiment, in which the molecule is tested in the laboratory to assess its pharmacological activity, chemical-physical properties and safety before it is used on patients. For molecules that pass this selection, clinical development begins, with three classic phases: Phase I studies, which assess in particular the safety profile and tolerability of the new drug; Phase II studies, which establish the anticancer activity of the new drug in a homogeneous population of patients with the same tumor; Phase III, finally, compares a new drug with the standard therapies used and it is here that the new drug needs to demonstrate a real improvement in terms of patient survival and quality of life, in order to gain approval from regulatory bodies and effectively enter the market.


The other topics at the center of the live stream

Prof. Santoro then illustrated the improvements that have occurred with respect to the toxicity of anticancer drugs and in general in the therapeutic field and answered some questions from patients.

The specialists then recounted the research projects underway in Humanitas.


Check out the live Facebook stream with our specialists: