A “Rescue” for Resistant Malignancies and Deadly Infections Alike?

A staggering figure of 2.8 million is the annual score (in the US alone) for antibiotic-resistant infections, according to the US CDC. Sadly, by far the worst infection ever is now the ruthless, very fast-spreading COVID-19 variants that may even elude immune responses derived from vaccinations.

On the other hand, in the mid-2010s, with the remarkable debut of the novel immune checkpoint blockers (ICBs) that has very fortunately saved past President Jimmy Carter from his deadly metastatic melanoma, more and more attention is now being paid to our own body innate immunity. For malignancies, this body immunity has been “hijacked” by those very clever cancer cells for their own survival benefits until the ICBs came along.

Looking at history, in the 19th century, a very renowned orthopedic surgeon working at the Memorial Hospital of New York, USA (Dr. William Coley), had already found out that even bacterial toxins were definitely effective for stimulating the body’s immunity so that those inoperable sarcomas could then be controlled without any surgery at all. Naturally, as our innate immunity can tackle both malignancies and infections, it would be highly worthwhile to exploit it as a very valuable adjunct for better control of both malignancies and infections.

Unfortunately, as Coley’s bacterial toxins sounded “too good to be true”, many of his peers had ironically rejected his very novel discovery until the recent debut of the ICBs. Now, with such a novel discovery, more attention has been paid to the body immunity’s pivotal role, especially as Coley had also been named as the “Father of Immunotherapy”, albeit rather retrospectively and well after his death. Nevertheless, as even ICBs have too low response rates so that the majority of cancer patients do not benefit from it, all other adjunct immunomodulatory agents are now called for so as to boost the rather low response rates of ICBs.

Hopefully, all these adjunct immunomodulatory agents could now come to the “rescue” for all 3 categories: cancers, bacterial infections resistant to antibiotics, especially the deadly pneumonias and the currently most dreadful viral chest infections. When facing these currently very serious calamities, despite running a risk of being rejected by our peers (akin to Coley), the arduous task of editing an evidence-based Nova book, “Bridging the Gap: In This Era of Cancer Immunotherapy” has been taken up and is forthcoming this September.

Shiu Y. Tsao, Former Director of Radiotherapy, The Chinese University of Hong Kong.