Combination treatment also tackles metastases

Six million euro grant for cancer therapy research

Treatment of metastatic lung tumours with a combination of radio therapy and immunotherapy. That’s what researchers at MAASTRO CLINIC and Maastricht UMC+/Maastricht University intend investigating in clinical practice with the aid of a six million euro grant from the European Commission. Previous studies have already shown that a combination therapy is effective in combating various types of tumours and metastases of those tumours. The Maastricht researchers hope the prestigious research grant will bring them a step closer to a new way of treating cancer.

Metastases are the major cause of cancer-related mortality. Current treatments are aimed at prolonging the patient’s life. Although it is possible to heal some non-metastatic cancers, that is not the case with metastatic tumours. Although further research is still required, a combination of radiation and immunotherapy can perhaps change that.

The treatment works like this: the primary tumour is attacked with radiotherapy, which destroys tumour cells and simultaneously elicits a response from the body’s immune system. However, that response is not sufficient to also tackle the metastases. In order to assist the immune system, immunocytokines are injected (this is the actual immune therapy). These recognise specific components of tumours throughout the body and bind to them. In this way they signal to the immune system to clear away the tumour cells.

This form of treatment has now proved successful in animal models and in initial clinical trials. The results show that not only does the primary tumour that is irradiated disappear but non-irradiated tumours in other parts of the body also appear to be tackled. Preclinical research has also shown that the immune therapy also provides protection against tumour cells that re-appear. That was different in the control group that did not receive immune therapy, in which the tumour grew back. Project director Prof. Philippe Lambin (Professor of Radiation Oncology) explains: “Combination therapy is therefore potentially one of the first treatments that may cure metastatic tumours.”

Clinical study
With the aid of the six million euro grant from the European Commission, the research team will spend the next six years investigating the therapy in a subsequent (randomised) clinical phase. That means that the treatment will be given to a selected number of patients with metastatic lung cancer at various hospitals, and the results then compared with the standard treatment. Radiotherapist/oncologist Evert van Limbergen explains: “We hope this will allow us to generate even more evidence for the effectiveness of combination therapy. Although the results are promising, the therapy is only being used in a research context for the time being.”

The project is entitled ImmunoSABR and will involve a number of knowledge institutions throughout Europe. You can watch an English-language animation of the therapy at:

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