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Gut Bacteria Can Boost Response to Cancer Immunotherapy

A new study led by Scripps Research scientist Howard Hang, PhD, explains how and why a certain species of bacteria in the digestive tract significantly improves the tumor-fighting ability of approved cancer drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors. The discovery, based on observations in animals, could have a big impact on cancer care; checkpoint inhibitors have shown great success against many types of cancer, yet are unable to elicit much of a response among some patients.

Hang’s findings, which appear in the journal Science, could lead to a new approach for boosting the effectiveness of cancer immunotherapies across a broader patient population—and may help solve the molecular mystery of why certain people haven’t benefited from the drugs. His lab is now focused on new microbiota-based therapeutics, working closely with Calibr, the drug development division of Scripps Research, to translate the science into a potential medicine that can be taken in combination with checkpoint inhibitors.

They are also exploring whether the approach could help boost the body’s immune response to other disease threats, including the virus that causes COVID-19.