Though costlier than chemotherapy, targeted therapy has several benefits over the usual chemotherapy with minimal side effects. Immuno-oncology uses the body’s own immune system, and improves on it to fight the cancer. Through a monoclonal antibody technique and CAR-T cell therapy, it aims to destroy only the cancerous cells, while sparing the healthy ones.
Dr K Muralikrishna Voona, managing director and oncologist from Mahatma Gandhi Cancer Hospital, elaborated on the technique. “The targeted immuno therapy operates by taking the antigens from tumour cells and synthesising antibodies outside the body using genetic engineering technology. The synthesised antibodies are put back in the body through monoclonal injections and it fights the tumour containing antigens. The body’s resistance mechanisms will identify and destroy the cancer cells. We are using this technique for certain types of cancer including cancers of the breast, head and neck, lung and ovaries. Research is on to widen the scope of treatment using monoclonal antibodies for other types of cancer as well,” Muralikrishna said.
Another targeted technique is the CAR-T cell therapy, which is practised abroad but is yet to come to India. “In this, the tumour antigen and the white blood cells of the patient are made to react outside the body to enhance the potency of the WBC to fight the antigen. The activated white cells are again injected back into the body,” Dr Muralikrishna added.
The targeted therapy scores over usual chemotherapy due to its various benefits. Dr N Sujatha, professor and head of the department of oncology at KGH, said, “In targeted therapy, the medicines help destroy only the cancerous cells while sparing the healthy ones but in chemotherapy both the good and bad cells may get killed, thereby leading to higher side effects. Targeted therapy shows better drug compliance for patients, is less toxic with minimal side effects. While chemotherapy can last for six to eight cycles (maximum upto three weeks), the toxicity profile is more bearable for prolonged periods in case of targeted therapy and can be continued for up to a few years. The only deterrent is the cost factor. While each dose of targeted therapy may cost around Rs 30,000, the entire cycle of chemo may cost around Rs 30,000-40,000.
However, none of the government hospitals in AP have medical oncology departments for advanced drug-based treatment or targeted therapy and research. It is the radiation oncologists who are administering first level of treatment in medical oncology. Doctors from King George Hospital (KGH) point to the need for setting up medical oncology super-specialty unit for advanced targeted therapy.