Improving immunotherapy for ovarian cancer

Posted 14 Feb 2022

New research at Flinders will address the urgent need for improved treatments for ovarian cancer.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer can be vague and there is currently no screening test. As a result, women often seek medical attention when ovarian cancer is already at an advanced stage.

Despite initially responding to surgery and chemotherapy, most patients relapse and approximately only 50 per cent of people with ovarian cancer in Australia live for five years, or more.

Immunotherapy has revolutionised the treatment of other types of cancer. It works by boosting the immune system to fight cancer in the body. However, clinical trials so far have shown that only a small number of people with ovarian cancer respond to immunotherapy.

Dr Claire Jessup has received a Flinders Foundation Health Seed Grant to further explore a particular type of immunotherapy called ‘checkpoint inhibition’. Checkpoint inhibitors are immunotherapy drugs, which block the proteins that stop the immune system from attacking cancer cells.

Checkpoint inhibition has the potential to induce potent, long-lasting anti-cancer effects in some patients, but currently its use is limited by severe immune-related side effects.

Based at Flinders University, Dr Jessup’s team will use different engineered forms and combinations of immune checkpoint inhibitors to induce the best responses in immune cells derived from patients with ovarian cancer.

“While dual checkpoint inhibition holds great theoretical potential, they are unlikely to be further developed for ovarian cancer unless we can design reagents that are more effective, less toxic or both,” Dr Jessup said.

“We expect that this project will confirm the best approach for ovarian cancer to be a combination of whole antibodies and engineered antibody fragments.”

Dr Jessup hopes this research, which is one of 31 projects funded in the 2021 Flinders Foundation Health Seed Grant Round, will progress the potential treatment of patients with ovarian cancer.

Research category: Biomedical

Project title: Developing effective immunotherapy approaches for ovarian cancer 

Lead researcher: Dr Claire Jessup


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