Cancer is a disease in which some of the body’s cells grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer can start almost anywhere in the human body, which is made up of trillions of cells. Normally, human cells grow and multiply (through a process called cell division) to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old or become damaged, they die, and new cells take their place.
Sometimes this orderly process breaks down, and abnormal or damaged cells grow and multiply when they shouldn’t. These cells may form tumors, which are lumps of tissue. Tumors can be cancerous or not cancerous (benign).
Cancerous tumors spread into, or invade, nearby tissues and can travel to distant places in the body to form new tumors (a process called metastasis). Cancerous tumors may also be called malignant tumors. Many cancers form solid tumors, but cancers of the blood, such as leukemias, generally do not.
Benign tumors do not spread into, or invade, nearby tissues. When removed, benign tumors usually don’t grow back, whereas cancerous tumors sometimes do. Benign tumors can sometimes be quite large, however. Some can cause serious symptoms or be life threatening, such as benign tumors in the brain.
“Mutations are random. If you look at one patient’s tumor and compare it to another patient’s, it would be highly unlikely that there will be a match,” Sean Marett, CBO and CCO of German immuno-oncology company BioNTech, told me. BioNTech is developing therapeutic vaccines that are created for each individual tumor. “Each patient gets a tailor-made product just for them,” said Marett.
“CAR-T is changing the treatment paradigm for cancer by creating targeted treatments that are specific to cancer cells,” said Christian Homsy, Executive Director of the board of Celyad, a Belgian CAR-T developer. “Our goal is to develop precise, targeted treatments that eradicate disease while sparing healthy tissue, and in doing so, improving patient lives.” said Marett.
“The precision and efficiency of gene editing with CRISPR/Cas9 enables the rapid creation of CAR-T cell therapies that may have distinct advantages over the current generation of CAR-T products,” Sam Kulkarni, CEO of the Swiss company CRISPR Therapeutics, told me. A pioneer in CRISPR/Cas9 therapy, the company is behind the first human trial using the technology in Europe, which is intended to treat a genetic blood disorder." Explained Kulkarni.
“Elements of the microbiome play a role in suppressing an overactive immune system in inflammatory diseases, and in boosting a suppressed immune system in cancers,” said Christophe Bonny, CSO of Enterome, a French company developing medicines based on microbiome science. “Our novel therapeutics are based on our knowledge of the interaction between the immune system and the gut microbiome,” he explained. “We know that tumor cells are often invisible to the immune system. We also know that within the microbiome there are peptides that mimic antigens on the surface of tumors. These can be used to make the tumor visible to the immune system again.