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mar 16, 2017
Innovation and technology

Brazilian scientist reveals immunology treatment for treating cancer

A Harvard-trained clinical oncologist and researcher published a study revealing the capabilities of immunology to treat aggressive renal cancer. In his study, Raphael Brandão studied the response of 60 patients of different nationalities to the treatment. The results were so positive that he received the Scientific Merit Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Renal cancer is a form of kidney cancer most common in adults. More specifically, there are two kinds of renal cancer. Unlike the clear cell cancer, that of the darker cells is more aggressive and lethal.

Patients involved in the immunology study had the latter form of renal cancer. Normally, they have about three months to live. However, even 6 months after the immunology treatments, 80 percent of patients survived. Furthermore, after one year, 20 percent had reduced tumors. The result surprised many doctors, who generally believed immunology could only treat clear cell cancer.

“We showed that there is a different way to address these types of tumors,” said Brandão. The 34-year-old researcher believes the pharmaceutical industry must invest more in immunotherapy drugs, making them more accessible.

In addition to conducting research at Harvard Medical School, Brandão works with Brazilian cancer research group Grupo Oncoclínicas. He conducted the study in partnership with researchers in the U.S., Spain, Canada, and South Korea.

“The treatment is effective for sicknesses which develop due to immune system failure. Everyday, from the time we are babies, our body produces pre-cancerous cells, which are fought with defense cells,” explains Brandão. “If at any moment this [defense] response doesn’t happen, cancer develops.”

In Brazil, immunotherapy costs about $16,200 per month of treatment. The National Health Agency (Anvisa) approved the first immunotherapy drug in 2012. Immunology drugs can treat kidney, lung, and bladder cancer, as well as melanomas and lymphomas. However, certain cancers do not respond to the treatment, such as pancreas tumors.

All in all, immunotherapy presents fewer collateral effects than chemotherapy. Patients don’t lose their hair, require fewer isolated treatments, and feel less weak.