Israeli cancer breakthrough says which patients should get immunotherapy

Science and Health

A “groundbreaking” bio-sensing technology that predicts the response of cancer patients to anti-PD1 – an immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) therapy – with significantly greater accuracy than current methods has been developed by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.

Since anti-PD1 is the leading immunotherapy treatment in cancer patients, such an achievement can impact the quality of life of thousands of cancer patients worldwide every day, they said.

IcAR technology enables the measurement of the functionality, in principle, of any immuno-modulator targets in medical oncology. Doctors using it to predict which patients would respond best to the therapies and tailor treatments accordingly will also be able to avoid treating patients for whom the treatment would be ineffective.The study’s results were just published in the prestigious journal Science Advances under the title “Functional binding of PD1 ligands predicts response to anti-PD1 treatment in patients with cancer.”

It was led by MD-Ph.D student Bar Kaufman and master’s degree student Orli Abramov, under the guidance of Prof. Moshe Elkabets and Prof. Angel Porgador from BGU’s Faculty of Health Sciences and collaborators from nearby Soroka-University Medical Center and Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon.

Prof. Moshe Elkabets (credit: DANI MACHLIS/BGU)

What is bio-sensing technology and how is it used in cancer treatment?

The bio-sensing technology, called the immuno-checkpoint artificial reporter with overexpression of PD1 (IcAR-PD1), measures the binding functionality of PD1 ligands, PDL1 and PDL2, to their receptor PD1. The researchers found that assessing the functionality of PD1 ligands was an effective predictor to identify who will positively respond to anti-PD1 and will benefit from this treatment.

In the future, the team said, the bioassay technology could help predict responses to other ICI therapies and could be used to tailor personalized ICI treatment protocols. The major advances of the IcAR technology are the accuracy and sensitivity along with its logistical simplicity. The technology enables the screening of substantial amounts of cancer samples without requiring fresh biopsies or biological material, making it accessible for medical care in Israel and abroad. By solving the logistical bottleneck, the researchers make the diagnostic tool easier for doctors to identify potential responders.

Porgador stressed that the diagnostic test doesn’t require an additional biopsy as it is based on the fixed tumor tissue available for cancer patients directly from the pathology unit of their medical center.

“In summary, IcAR technology is expected to be a game-changer in the world of cancer treatment diagnostics,” declared Elkabets, “It will enable accurate prediction of patient response to ICI therapies, and it has the potential to improve the lives of cancer patients by identifying effective treatment options in a personalized manner.”