Biological therapy, biology, cancer, News, science news, Uncategorized

NICE approves combination immunotherapy drug for advanced skin cancer

Sometimes the science of the future seems very far away, and sometimes it seems to happen almost faster than you would think. Immunotherapy is taking off at a record pace in the search for better cancer treatments.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice), the body in the United Kingdom that licences medicines for use, has just approved a combination of two immunotherapy drugs in record time. These two drugs are ipilumab and nivolumab, which I blogged about as a treatment showing promising clinical trial results only a short while ago.

Nivolumab blocks a molecule secreted by cancer cells that prevents the T-cells of the immune system from recognising and destroying them. Ipilumab, which was approved by Nice in 2012, stimulates the T-cells to multiply. This drug combination has been approved for the treatment of metastatic (i.e. spread from its original site) melanoma, a particularly intractable cancer to treat. The life expectancy for this type of cancer is only around two years: the combination treatment has extended this to as much as ten years (and counting, in some cases). Moreover, ipilumab alone is effective in about 20% of cases: the combination raises that to 60%. So these are massively improved odds. I expect to see more successes soon, and, as more experience is gained with these exciting new techniques, hopefully the side-effects will become more manageable as well.

History of science, Miscellaneous, Uncategorized

I want a leech-based storm predictor

I’m aware I’ve been a little slack with the postings lately; life is getting busy as I prepare to start a new job (and move house to start said job…). I’ve got a post in the works, but in the meantime I’ll just leave you with this: the Tempest Prognosticator, which I just learned about from BBC4’s excellent documentary on the history of weather forecasting, Storm Troupers. It’s a way of predicting oncoming storms using the agitation of leeches. Yes, really.

Tempest prognosticator
At the Whitby museum (taken by L Wang).

Just not sure where I’d fit it in the living room…

Biological therapy, cancer, immunotherapy, science news, Uncategorized

Immunotherapy in the news again

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, with a teething baby eating my sleep and job applications eating my time, so a longer written piece is off the cards for now. It seems my piece on new cancer treatments, specifically immunotherapy, however, was a timely one, as it’s hitting the news again, with big successes reported in the use of modified T-cell therapy to treat blood cancers, reported in the Guardian here. These include some startling trial results:

In the most promising study, about 35 patients with ALL were treated with Cars-modified T-cells; 94% went into remission, though symptoms could reappear. More than 40 patients with lymphoma have also been treated, with remission rates of more than 50%. In a group with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, there was evidence of diminished cancer symptoms in more than 80% of cases.

These are really impressive figures. Is it just hype? These results were reported at a major scientific meeting, and the ALL (acute lymphoblastic leukaemia) trial results are described as being under review and pending publication. So it’s not just a press release from a laboratory that has been wildly spun out of all proportion by an over-enthusiastic press. I for one will definitely be wanting to read the original research paper when (if) it is published. We can expect to see a flood of trial results and papers published within the next couple of years, if it lives up to even half of its original promise.

biology, cancer, Explainer, medicine, Uncategorized

The future of cancer treatment, part 1

Following on from my post on the new treatment for ALL, I thought I’d go into cancer in general a bit more. In this first part of a double post, I’ll briefly go into what cancer is and the principles of the main types of current treatments. In the second part, I’ll consider some of the more futuristic cancer treatments that are starting to enter the mainstream.

Continue reading

General opinion, Science and society, science fiction, Society, Uncategorized

Never mind a hovercar, I want a robot butler and a three day working week

honda-new-asimo-3Photo credit: Honda. I want me one of these, but better.

One of things that is always dragged up when people start discussing whether the science fiction of the past predicted the present at all accurately, is the old “Where’s my hovercar?” trope. Maybe it’s just that I don’t even like regular wheeled cars, but of all the many things I wanted in this so-called ‘Future’, a hovercar was pretty far down the list. A replicator would be a damn sight more useful. A robot butler even more so. I did like this golden vision a lot of 50s and 60s scifi presented though, where the future was bright and nobody had to work, or only at really interesting things they really wanted to do (never mind that they were often so hampered by their own prejudices that they utterly failed to advance gender equality, for example, but that’s another story). But, really, why are we still all working like dogs? And where are the futuristic, practical everyday inventions that would make life easier? Continue reading


Progress pending….

Well so November and Christmas got super busy, and my plan to roll out this blog more officially stalled somewhat, but over this weekend I’ll be uploading at least one more post, giving a shout-out to the Facebook crowd, and getting going on a regular (by which I mean approximately weekly for now) posting schedule.