Biological Response Modifiers

Biologic therapies for the treatment of cancer are referred to as biologic response modifiers (BRM’s). The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human services charged with ensuring the safety and effectiveness of new drugs before they can go on the market, has approved several BRM’s for use in cancer treatment. These substances, which are naturally produced in small quantities in the body, can now be produced in large quantities in the laboratory. BRM’s stimulate the patient’s immune system to protect the body from foreign substances such as tumor cells.

BRM’s include substances such as monoclonal antibodies, tumor necrosis factor, and cytokines.

Monoclonal antibodies increase the immune response by targeting tumor specific antigens.

Additional biologic agents and approaches such as vaccine therapy are based on the idea that there are tumor-associated antigens on the cell surface of tumors not found on normal cells. Potentially, the body’s immune system can be taught, through immunization, to recognize these tumor-specific antigens, and to activate the immune system to prevent the recurrence of cancer. Gene therapy is a technique in which new genetic material is inserted into a patient’s cell to correct an inborn genetic error or to introduce a new biologic function to the cell. Gene therapy may be useful in cancer treatment to improve patient immune response.