Immunotherapy After Chemotherapy May Boost Cancer Treatment Response Interview with:

Professor Frances Balkwill OBE, FMedSci Lead, Centre for Cancer and Inflammation Barts Cancer Institute - a Cancer Research UK Centre of Excellence Queen Mary University of London London

Prof. Frances Balkwill

Professor Frances Balkwill OBE, FMedSci
Lead, Centre for Cancer and Inflammation
Barts Cancer Institute
Queen Mary University of London
London What is the background for this study?

Prof. Balkwill: We wanted to find out if chemotherapy altered patients immune system especially the immune cells that co-exist with cancer cells in tumors.

We studied women with ovarian cancer who often receive chemotherapy after diagnosis but before surgery. This meant, at least in some of them, we could study a biopsy taken before treatment began and also a biopsy taken during the operation. What are the main findings?

Prof. Balkwill:  We found that chemotherapy actually ‘activated’ the immune system in a way that suggested immune cells would be more able to recognise and destroy malignant cells. Unfortunately there was also an increase in a chemical that suppresses these ‘good’ immune cells. As there are immunotherapy treatments that block these suppressive chemicals our findings suggest that this type of immunotherapy might be effective if given to patients after chemotherapy. We also found that chemotherapy reduced blood levels of some inflammatory chemicals that are also thought to help cancers grow and spread, again giving a better situation for immunotherapy to work. What should readers take away from your report?

Prof. Balkwill:  It may be advantageous to give patients chemotherapy and then immunotherapy. Also we found that ‘good’ immune cells capable of recognising and destroying cancer cells are not harmed by this type of chemotherapy. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Prof. Balkwill:  We would like to find the optimum time to give immunotherapy after chemotherapy. The best way to do this is to use mouse models of ovarian cancer that replicate the human disease as we can study different schedules and time points. We would like to understand the exact mechanism by which chemotherapy ‘activates’ immune cells. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Bohm, S. et al Neoadjuvant chemotherapy modulates the immune microenvironment in metastases of tubo-ovarian high-grade serous carcinoma Clinical Cancer Research (2016)

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

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