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Immunotherapy: How we're funding the future

05 March 2019


Immunotherapy is an exciting and expanding area of cancer research – and it’s the focus of this year’s HHMT International Forum on Ovarian Cancer. Ovarian Cancer Action’s Research Grants & Impact Manager, Su-Lin explores what immunotherapy has achieved so far, and the promise it holds for ovarian cancer patients.

In 2018, the Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo for their discovery of cancer therapy by inhibition of negative immune regulation. In brief, the pair discovered the mechanisms by which our bodies’ immune systems are tricked by cancer cells into not attacking them; by reversing this, and thus helping our immune systems recognise cancer cells, they can go on to fight the cancer cells as they would any other harmful organisms. In time, Allison’s and Honjo’s discoveries led to the creation of new immunotherapy treatments, which are today being used by doctors to treat a number of different cancers.

Immunotherapy is an umbrella term for a group of treatments that fight cancer by boosting or unleashing the power of the immune system, and over the past decade it has produced some remarkable results.

The former US President Jimmy Carter is probably the most high-profile person to have his cancer cured by immunotherapy. His late-stage melanoma had spread and only a few years ago this would have been considered untreatable. However, within a few months of starting the treatment his cancer disappeared.

While immunotherapy is now being used to treat very specific instances of cancer, there is still a lot of work to be done towards immunotherapy treatments for ovarian cancer. That is why we launched the Immunotherapy Funding Challenge in late 2018, to build on the achievements in immunotherapy and fund ovarian cancer research in this new field.

For the past 30 years, Ovarian Cancer Action has also provided a vital forum for the world’s leading scientists and clinicians to discuss the latest thinking and debate new directions in ovarian cancer. The HHMT International Forum on Ovarian Cancer first convened in 1986, after our President Allyson Kaye’s mother Helene Harris passed away from the disease. The last two meetings have culminated in ovarian cancer position papers in Nature Reviews Cancer, with their recommendations rippling through the ovarian cancer research world.

In September this year, we will be hosting the 14th HHMT Forum in the UK; this year’s meeting will focus on answering the important question of how we can achieve meaningful and lasting responses to immunotherapies in patients with ovarian cancers. The winner of the Immunotherapy Funding Challenge will be announced at this meeting.

By supporting the best research in the field, we hope to create a better future for all women diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  

To find out more about ovarian cancer treatments, visit our new Patient Hub