While scientists have struggled for over a century to harness the power of the immune system in their fight against cancer, it is only during the last couple of decades that the field has really come of age. Immunotherapy has now begun to consolidate its position as the fourth pillar of human cancer therapy alongside surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy, and was trumpeted as the breakthrough of the year by the prestigious journal Science in 2013.
However, despite the fact that immunotherapy has had so me stunning successes in the clinic, these therapies often only work in a relatively small percentage of patients. The inability to identify responsive individuals up-front creates a treatment-lottery where many patients are forced to suffer unnecessary s ide-effects from expensive and ineffective medicines, whilst others fail to receive the potentially life-saving treatments they so desperately need. This problem not only affects the use of approved products, but also poses major challenges for the pharma ceutical companies trying to develop tomorrows breakthrough therapies. Currently ~90% of all immunotherapy drugs fail to make it through the clinical pipeline.
OncoImmunity aims to overcome this patient selection problem by developing a bioinformatics to ol that can evaluate a tumor's specific mutational profile within the context of the patient's individual human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genotype. HLA molecules are special proteins that enable the immune system to identify and target cancerous cells. Thus by predicting all the interactions between a tumor's repertoire of mutated proteins (neo-antigens) and the patient's HLA molecules, and combining this data with information on immune escape mechanisms, we can calculate the tumor's "immune potential" i.e. its ability to be seen and eradicated by the patient's immune system.