Cancer Research Catalyst, the official blog of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) states: Top Trend in Health Care in 2015: Cancer Immunotherapy (December 21, 2015).  It is reported that this year alone, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved five cancer immunotherapies, including the first immunotherapies for lung cancer and children with cancer.
These advances in cancer immunotherapy are the result of long-term investments in basic research on the immune system—research that continues today.
Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases such as cancer. This can be done in a couple of ways:

  • Stimulating your own immune system to work harder or smarter to attack cancer cells;
  • Giving your immune system components, such as man-made immune system proteins, to augment or stimulate the immune system.

Some types of immunotherapy are also called biological therapy or biotherapy.

The graph below shows that the total global spending on biologic drugs during the recent years is increasing, and it is expected to further increase in 2017.

In the last few decades immunotherapy has become an important part of treating some types of cancer. Newer types of immune treatments are now being studied, and they will impact how cancer is treated in the future.
The main types of immunotherapy now being used to treat cancer include:

  • Therapeutic antibodies: These are man-made versions of immune system proteins. Antibodies can be very useful in treating cancer because they can be designed to attack a very specific part of a cancer cell.
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors: These types of drugs basically take the ‘brakes’ off the immune system, which helps it recognize and attack cancer cells.
  • Cancer treatment vaccines: Vaccines are substances put into the body to start an immune response against certain diseases. We usually think of them as being given to healthy people to help prevent infections. But some vaccines can help prevent or treat cancer.
  • Other, non-specific immunotherapies: These treatments boost the immune system in a general way, still helping the immune system attack cancer cells.

Many newer types of immunotherapy are now being studied for use against cancer. This additional research is currently under way to:

  • understand why immunotherapy is effective in some patients but not in others who have the same cancer
  • expand the use of immunotherapy to additional types of cancer
  • increase the effectiveness of immunotherapy by combining it with other types of cancer treatment, such as targeted therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.

We have established the patent trends in the field of cancer immunotherapy by scrutinizing the patent databases. It has been revealed that there is an ongoing increase in patent filings of cancer immunotherapy patent documents.

As shown below, the main assignees of these patent families are divided between companies such as Celgene corp and Universities and research institutes such as Texas University and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Some of the subjects of the filed patent documents are overlapping with the research subjects reported above as currently underway, namely cancer antibodies, cancer vaccines, cancer antigen and immune system, as demonstrated by the following figure: 

Based on our patent trend analysis, it can be expected that aspects such as antibody fragments, adoptive immunotherapy, infectious diseases and autoimmune diseases may be further researched and subjected to R&D activities. In addition cancer diseases including lung cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer and bladder cancer are predicted to be of market interest and subjected to licensing agreements in the context of cancer immunotherapy.

To summarize, the above data shows that the cancer immunotherapy industry is at an early stage, characterized by movement of knowledge from universities, hospitals and research institutes into industry, often via TTO’s. Another characteristic of early stage yet high promise of the industry is that many patent owners are substantial companies (Janssen pharmaceutica etc) but not gigantic, and there are no dominating entities. Sales are increasing, patent filings are increasing and the area is in a very dynamic state. This provides excellent opportunities for small biologically based start-ups, and also should provide a stimulus to the academic and research community to direct their research accordingly.