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Gut bacteria may be key to efficacy of immunotherapies

Published on 06/11/17 at 11:06am

Why immunotherapies are successful in some individuals and not in others is a matter of huge importance to both patients and the companies that develop such treatments. The success of PD-1 and PD-L1 therapies for some patients has led to more interest into why certain patients are not able to respond as strongly.

Another piece of the jigsaw may been revealed in recent research published in Science, with two papers linking patient’s gut bacteria to successful treatment of tumours.

The research, carried out by scientists in France and the US, found that a varied microbiome and a certain species of bacteria were able to influence the efficacy of immunotherapy treaments.

A study carried out by the University of Texas found that patients with high level of Faecalibacterium and Clostridiales were more likely to respond to treatment. It was found that there were more immune cells in people with these particular beneficial bacteria.

In order to test the validity of the findings, tests were conducted by transplanting the beneficial bacteria into mice. It was found that tumour growth in these mice was considerably slower compared with mice that had received bacteria that were shown to be potentially damaging to treatment.

“What we found was impressive: There were major differences both in the diversity and composition of the gut microbiome in responders versus non-responders,” Dr Jennifer Wargo, a researcher at MD Anderson Cancer Center said. “Those who did well had greater bacterial diversity in their gut, whereas those whose tumours didn’t much shrink had fewer varieties of microbes present.”

The second study found that antibiotics, known to disrupt the microbiome of the body, were more likely to see their tumours develop. It identified one bacterium in particular that seemed to be strongly beneficial – Akkermansia muciniphila. 69% of patients who responded to treatment had the bacteria present in their bodies, while only a third of those who did not respond.

The findings open up the possibility of either testing the microbiome of patients or, potentially, transferring healthy bacteria across to those about to undergo treatment. Before this can happen, however, more research needs to be conducted to validate the findings.

Ben Hargreaves

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