The redemption of immunotherapy

For many decades, the concept of recruiting the immune system to fight cancer was logical yet elusive, beautiful in theory, and in practice, disappointing and unrealized. That all changed on March 25, 2011, when ipilimumab (ippee-lih-moo-mab) was FDA-approved for treatment of patients with late-stage melanoma. It was commercialized by Bristol Myers Squibb under the brand name “Yervoy.” You can read about its development here. But I want to focus on monoclonal antibodies. Monoclonal antibodies are like pseudo-copies of keys, and instead of opening a lock, the pseudo-key inserts into the lock, gets stuck there and blocks the real key from working. One time, I came to my parked car and saw an elderly man standing next to it. He thought my car was his, inserted his key into the lock, and it wouldn’t turn of course. He kept trying, and eventually the key broke off, leaving part of it insde the keyhole. We couldn’t remove the broken off key, and I couldn’t insert my key. His key was like a monoclonal antibody. All cells have many locks on the surface. When a certain key inserts into a certain lock, a certain thing happen (for example, the cell divides faster). Immune cells have a lock, which when unlocked, results in the immune cell being shut down or turned off. Guess what has the key to this lock? Some melanoma cells. Well, ipilimumab is a monoclonal antibody or a pseudo-copy of this key. When melanoma patients receive Yervoy, the cancer cell is unable to insert its key into the lock to turn off the immune cell. As a result, the immune cell stays activated and destroys the cancer cell. At Daniel 2:28, we trust in God, the ultimate locksmith, to show us the right key for the right solution.

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