We have witnessed significant momentum with immunotherapy and precision medicine in recent years. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 16 new cancer therapeutics and expanded the use of 10 previously approved treatments to include new types of cancer last year. What advances can we expect moving forward?

Immunotherapy

“The field of immunotherapy is exploding,” says Nobel Laureate James P. Allison, MD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who predicts we will start seeing checkpoint blockade combinations come to the forefront, extending the range of cancers that 

respond to treatment. Combinations among immunotherapies and with other treatments, along with vaccine-based treatments, will also help address resistance to immunotherapies, he adds.

Allison hopes to see more studies to address adverse events associated with immunological treatments. He predicts more FDA approvals of T-cell therapies for blood cancers and significant progress toward developing personalized cancer vaccines. “I am very hopeful that we can make immunotherapies work even better,” he says.

Genetic treatments

“These initiatives are critical to conducting important implementation science research, engaging the community and ultimately advocating on behalf of cancer research and making progress for cancer patients.”

American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) President-Elect Elaine Mardis, PhD, says, “We are at a very exciting time right now, especially as we witness the impact of many research studies rolling toward clinical translations.” Mardis, of Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, expects to see more systematic studies that incorporate liquid biopsy-based treatment monitoring to study drug resistance. She is enthusiastic about the extent of information generated through various genomic clinical assays for patients and anticipates functional studies to interpret the significance of many unknown gene variants.

Artificial intelligence

Mardis foresees an increased use of AI in systems biology, and the translation of innovative research for hard-to-treat cancers, including glioblastoma multiforme and pancreatic cancer.

We will see an increased focus on implementation science in the areas of prevention and cancer health disparities, according to Brian Rivers, PhD, chairperson for the Minorities in Cancer Research Council of the AACR. Rivers, of the ​Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, expects to see diversification of large databases, with new strategies to collect tumor samples from diverse patient populations for cancer genomics studies.

Rivers points to the Cancer Health Disparities Think Tank the AACR convened last fall, aimed at identifying next steps in addressing disparities. “These initiatives are critical to conducting important implementation science research, engaging the community and ultimately advocating on behalf of cancer research and making progress for cancer patients,” Rivers notes.