Throughout our lives, we are exposed to organisms in our environment including bacteria and viruses, which can lead to many types of infection. We have evolved a highly specialised defence mechanism to identify and combat such disease-causing ‘pathogens’ through what is known as an immune response. Immunotherapy is a new approach to treating diseases that harnesses the body’s own defence mechanisms by inducing, enhancing or suppressing an immune response.

The scientists and experts at LifeArc helped develop pembrolizumab (Keytruda®), which is an immunotherapy licensed in a number of cancer types including melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer and classical Hodgkin lymphoma.

A key difference from conventional forms of cancer treatment is that pembrolizumab enables the patient’s immune system to recognize a tumour cell and then either inhibit or destroy it. Dr. David Matthews, Associate Director, Biotherapeutics, LifeArc said: “These are drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors; they take the brakes off the immune system and prevent the tumour from hiding from the patient’s own defences. Once the tumour is exposed to the immune system, the body is pretty effective at destroying it safely.”

LifeArc has helped to developed four drugs currently available to treat patients: Keytruda® (cancer); Tysabri® (multiple sclerosis); Actemra® (rheumatoid arthritis) and Entyvio® (Crohn’s disease).

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