How PDR001 works
PDR001 is a type of immunotherapy, meaning that it acts by activating the body’s own immune system to recognize and fight cancer cells.
Normally, an immune system cell called T-cells recognizes and kills infected or abnormal cells, including those that are cancerous. To prevent T-cells from accidentally damaging healthy and essential tissues, however several immune system checkpoints exist to inhibit, or block, them from going about this work. One example is the programmed cell death 1 (PD-1) pathway.
Healthy cells produce and display a protein called programmed cell death ligand-1 or ligand-2 (PD-L1 or PD-L2) on their surface. These proteins bind to and activate a receptor called PD-1 that is produced by T-cells. When activated, PD-1 sends a message to the T-cells that prevents them from attacking that particular cell.
Cancer cells can hijack this system by producing PD-L1 or PD-L2, effectively hiding from T-cells and evade destruction.
PDR001 is an antibody, a protein designed to interact with and block a specific target. It acts by binding to PD-1, blocking it from interacting with both PD-L1 and PD-L2. This binding blocks the PD-1-mediated inactivation of the T-cells, so that they are able to recognize and target cancer cells. This should result in a reduction in tumor growth and size.
PDR001 in clinical trials
PDR001 has been investigated in multiple completed and ongoing clinical trials, both alone and in combination with a wide range of other agents.
Novartis presented results from an ongoing first-in-human Phase 1/2 clinical trial (NCT02404441) of PDR001 at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) meeting in 2016. Preliminary trial results suggested that the drug is well-tolerated and safe, with a similar profile to other anti-PD-1 drugs currently being developed. The trial is still recruiting patients with various types of advanced cancer at 43 sites across North America, Europe, and Asia; more information is available by clicking on its identification number.
Novartis then initiated several dozen other Phase 1, 2 and 3 trials, all registered on clinicaltrials.gov, to continue investigating the safety and anti-tumor activity of PDR001 in a wide range of cancer types, and in combination with other investigational and approved therapies. For example, a Phase 3 trial (NCT02967692) is comparing the safety and efficacy of PDR001 to a placebo, in combination with Tafinlar (dabrafenib) and Mekinist (trametinib), as a treatment for advanced melanoma.
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