The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) named immunotherapy the “advance of the year” for the second year in a row, recognizing the expanding use of these agents, according to Clinical Cancer Advances 2017: ASCO’s Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer.1

“In less than a decade, immunotherapy has gone from being considered a promising theoretical treatment to one that has become a standard of care that is helping extend or improve the lives of thousands of patients,” ASCO president Daniel F. Hayes, MD, FACP, FASCO, professor of internal medicine and director of the breast oncology program at University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, said in a press release. “Today, increasing knowledge about both cancer and immunology is leading to more and smarter use of treatments that activate a patient’s own immune system. Federal funding has made these life-saving advances possible and remains essential to increasing the pace of discovery and progress.”2

The report, which was presented during a Congressional Briefing on Capitol Hill, details the progress made with PD-1- and PD-L1-targeting immune checkpoint inhibitors. These drugs improve survival for patients with advanced melanoma, advanced non-small cell lung cancer, and recurrent or metastatic head and neck cancer, and demonstrate activity in a variety of other tumor types.

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In 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 5 new uses for immune checkpoint inhibitors: lung cancer, head and neck cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, and Hodgkin lymphoma. There are now 15 immune checkpoint inhibitors since the first reports of checkpoint inhibitors shrinking advanced melanoma in 2011.

Researchers are beginning to identify biomarkers that may predict which patients will benefit from immunotherapy. “Hypermutated” tumors, for example, appear to be more susceptible to checkpoint inhibitors than those with fewer genetic aberrations.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH), however, has less purchasing power than it did a decade ago despite recent increases in the budget. ASCO is urging the new Congress and the Trump administration to allocate at least $34.1 billion for the NIH in Fiscal Year 2017.

“Much work still lies ahead. After a decade of flat funding, we are encouraged by the recent increase in NIH support,” said Dr Hayes. “Sustained federal investment is needed to continue our momentum and build on the progress we’ve achieved. We need to catch up and keep up.”

RELATED: Prostate Cancer: In Search of Predictive Biomarkers for Immunotherapy

“With the America Cures Act, the Moonshot Initiative, and other efforts that have focused on cancer research, we have a prospect of doing a little better than just a holding pattern,” explained United States Representative for North Carolina’s 4th congressional district David Price, PhD, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee. “That does depend on patching the budget and getting past the strictures of the Budget Control Act [of 2011].”


  1. Burstein HJ, Krilov L, Aragon-Ching JB, et al; American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Clinical Cancer Advances 2017: ASCO’s annual report on progress against cancer. J Clin Oncol. 2017 Feb 1. doi: 10.1200/JCO.2016.71.5292 [Epub ahead of print]
  2. American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Immunotherapy 2.0 Named Advance Of The Year In ASCO’S 12th Annual Cancer Progress Report; 2017. Available at: Published February 1, 2017. Accessed February 1, 2017.