The Nobel Prize-winning discovery of immune checkpoint inhibitors has changed how cancer is treated. These drugs “unblock” the immune system’s normally protective pathways that prevent T cells from overreacting and potentially harming healthy cells. Immune checkpoint inhibitors work by “uninhibiting” a cancer patient’s T cells to attack his or her tumor.
While successful checkpoint therapy indicates that an individual’s immune system can control tumor growth as though the tumor is a viral infection, not everyone’s immune system seems to be up to the task: Among patients eligible for immunotherapy, only about 1 in 7 respond to it. A new tumor-scoring algorithm based on the unique genomic characteristics of an individual’s cancer, recently described in STAT, has been proposed to reduce the number of treatment failures by predicting the outcome of checkpoint therapy.