ESMO Immuno-Oncology Congress showcases new technologies set to improve cancer treatment

December 11, 2018

Lugano-Geneva, 11 December 2018 - Innovation in immuno-oncology is exploding and new technologies that are set to benefit many patients with cancer are being showcased in the highly diverse array of topics to be discussed at the ESMO Immuno-Oncology Congress, to be held 13-16 December in Geneva, Switzerland. (1)

Prof. John Haanen, Congress Scientific Co-Chair, said: "Immuno-oncology has made great steps forward. Checkpoint inhibitors have been a notable advance, yet just 15-20% of patients with cancer respond to this treatment. Because of fast-paced research developments, we are moving to the next level of being able to treat a greater proportion of patients. This research will find a home in ESMO's Immuno-Oncology Technology Journal, which will educate medical oncologists so they are ready to use new drugs when they enter clinical practice."

A wide range of promising technologies expected to become standard of care in the future are being discussed at the congress. Some will be applicable across many cancer types, while others are specific to particular situations, or even to individual patients.

Multiplex immunohistochemistry is one example which Haanen said "should become the mainstay of how we look at tumours". (2) Antibodies and tumour samples are used to identify the types of cells in and around the tumour, the so-called "tumour microenvironment", thereby pointing to the best treatment. "Hot tumours" contain many immune cells and are the most likely to respond to checkpoint inhibitors. Different approaches would be needed for "cold tumours" which lack immune cells and "immune excluded tumours" which are surrounded by T cells that cannot penetrate the tumour.

Bispecific antibodies also look promising for multiple types of cancer. They combine two different antibodies so that the immune system is stimulated and the tumour is inhibited. CD137/PD-L1 bispecific antibodies, for example, target the co-stimulatory molecule CD137 on T cells and PD-L1 on tumour cells. (3)

Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy is a type of adoptive cell therapy that is being developed for tumours expressing particular antigens. (4) Viral vectors are used to transduce a gene encoding for CAR into T cells, which are then used to target cancer cells. Currently this results in continuous expression of CAR on the T cell. But researchers are developing "conditional expression" so that it can be switched on and off. (5) This should focus the treatment by switching it on when needed and improve safety by switching it off if there are side-effects.

Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection is common and people with a healthy immune system generate antigens to keep the viral load under control. When the immune system becomes suppressed, for example after organ transplantation, patients may be unable to control the viral load. Allogeneic EBV-directed T cells are being developed for this situation, which can lead to EBV-associated lymphomas and leiomyosarcomas. (6)

Neoantigen therapeutics are where personalised immuno-oncology comes into play. (7) Because DNA mutations are random, every tumour has a different combination of mutations. When proteins formed from mutated DNA break down, this generates mutated peptides, which are called neoantigens. Researchers are developing individualised vaccines against these neoantigens. And, for patients with T cells that are specific for these neoantigens, scientists are growing large amounts of the T cells outside the body for infusion back into the patient.

"Knowledge is accumulating at such a high speed that keeping up-to-date is a challenge. The wealth of novel research and need for oncologists to understand emerging therapies has sparked the launch of ESMO's Immuno-Oncology Technology Journal," added Haanen who is the Editor-in-Chief of the journal. "The journal will cover improvements in existing immunotherapies and cutting-edge findings in novel areas. Review papers will be published to summarise milestones and explain how innovative therapies work."
Notes to Editors

Please make sure to use the official name of the meeting in your reports: ESMO Immuno-Oncology Congress

Official Congress Hashtag: #ESMOImmuno18


  2. Multiplex immunohistochemistry will be discussed during the session 'Immuno-oncology: State of the art II' to be held on Sunday, 16 December, 09:10 to 10:40 (CET) in Room C.
  3. Abstract 83P 'Optimising TNFRSF agonism and checkpoint blockade with a novel CD137/PD-L1 bispecific antibody' will be presented by M. A. Lakins during the Poster Display session on Friday, 14 December, 12:30 to 13:00 (CET) in the Foyer. Annals of Oncology, Volume 29, 2018 Supplement 10. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdy493
  4. The session 'Adoptive T cell therapy' will be held on Thursday, 13 December, 14:30 to 16:00 (CET) in Room A.
  5. Abstract 68O 'Ligand-inducible, prostate stem cell antigen (PSCA)-directed GoCAR-T (Trademark) cells in advanced solid tumors: Preliminary results from a dose escalation study' will be presented by C. R. Becerra during the Proffered Paper session II on Friday, 14 December, 09:00 to 10:30 (CET) in Room A. Annals of Oncology, Volume 29, 2018 Supplement 10. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdy493
  6. Abstract 34O 'Efficacy and safety of tabelecleucel in patients with Epstein Barr Virus-associated leiomyosarcomas (EBV+ LMS)' will be presented by L. S. Kurlander during the Mini Oral Session on Saturday, 15 December, 08:00 to 09:00 (CET) in Room A. Annals of Oncology, Volume 29, 2018 Supplement 10. doi:10.1093/annonc/mdy493
  7. The session 'Immuno-oncology: State of the art I' will be held on Saturday, 15 December, 09:10 to 10:40 (CET) in Room A.

About the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO)

ESMO is the leading professional organisation for medical oncology. With more than 20,000 members representing oncology professionals from over 150 countries worldwide, ESMO is the society of reference for oncology education and information. ESMO is committed to offer the best care to people with cancer, through fostering integrated cancer care, supporting oncologists in their professional development, and advocating for sustainable cancer care worldwide. Visit

European Society for Medical Oncology

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