Advances in Cancer Immunotherapies Can Further the Treatment of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma


cancer immunotherapies hodgkin's lymphoma
Many patients with Hodgkin’s lymphoma have to resort to experimental treatments if they relapse. Can companies develop cancer immunotherapies to help them?
Image source: Flickr CC user cnicholsonpath

Despite being relatively rare, Hodgkin’s lymphoma (HL) tends to strike young adults most often, especially those people in their 20s. On the positive side, HL has one of the highest cure rates of all cancer types, with the very first treatments having been developed almost a century ago. In less optimistic news, however, patients who do not respond to therapy or who relapse face worse outcomes. For this demographic, their options include salvage therapies and bone marrow or stem cell transplants.1

New Cancer Immunotherapies May Help Relapsed or Non-responsive HL Patients

The prognosis for cancer patients who remain unresponsive to or relapse from treatment can be grim. While these patients are given salvage therapy, only 34% exhibit a sustained response.2 The majority relapse again within months, leaving patients with few treatment options. In fact, if bone marrow transplants aren’t an available recourse, they usually turn to experimental therapies.

In addition, the need to help this demographic is growing. While HL is considered relatively rare when compared to other types of cancer, the number of cases is rising. Approximately 4,000-5,000 new cases are diagnosed each year in North America, Europe, and Japan. As the total HL patient population increases, so too will the number of people for whom traditional therapies prove ineffective. For them, new cancer immunotherapies must be developed and implemented.

Some life sciences organizations have begun creating cancer immunotherapies that stimulate the immune system to target the disease. For instance, one protein inhibitor drug binds to activated T-cells and allows them to recognize tumors.3 Since many cancers proliferate by suppressing certain aspects of the immune system, developing biologics that focus on circumventing or reversing those effects are particularly attractive as a potential therapy.

Combination Cancer Immunotherapies May Provide a Highly Effect Synergistic Effect

Other life science companies are taking this tactic one step further. Along with developing cancer immunotherapies to target HL, they’re also studying potential combination therapies. We’re even seeing clinical research partnerships form between firms to delve deeper into this area. What if, for example, we use a monoclonal antibody that binds to antigens expressed on lymphoma cells in conjunction with another antibody that boosts the immune system’s ability to detect and fight tumor cells? One such combination therapy currently in clinical trials has demonstrated an ability to destroy 90% of tumors found in patients.

This blog has discussed the efficacy of using combination therapy to treat lung cancer, so why wouldn’t the strategy apply to other forms of cancer as well? Especially with regard to relapsed or unresponsive HL patients, combination cancer immunotherapies might be the answer to their particularly stubborn disease courses. More importantly, depending on the safety data obtained from clinical trials, would using combination therapies earlier in HL treatment ultimately end up more effective? After all, HL therapies have evolved since the use of extended field radiotherapy as a preferred treatment course. A shift to combination therapy could be a similar therapy refinement.

Regardless of whether combination cancer immunotherapies remain an option for salvage therapy or become a part of the treatment regimen applied earlier after diagnosis, life sciences organizations should begin seriously exploring their potential. Its previous usage with lung cancer and now with HL suggests that combination therapy may be an effective strategy for treating patients with difficult disease courses prone to relapses or that remain unresponsive to standard treatment options. Considering the promising results from clinical trials currently in progress, we may be entering the next phase of cancer immunotherapies.

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  1. “When Less Is More: Paring Down Treatment for Hodgkin Lymphoma May Reduce the Risk of Long-Term Side Effects,” March 14, 2016,
  2. “New Hodgkin Lymphoma Combo Therapy of Keytruda and AFM13 to Move into Clinical Trial,” January 26, 2016,
  3. “EMA Agrees to Consider Opdivo (nivolumab) as a Possible Treatment for Classical Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,” April 4, 2016,