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February 6, 2018

Gut Microbes May Shape Response to Cancer Immunotherapy

JAMA. 2018;319(5):430-431. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.12857

New studies indicate that the composition of gut bacteria can influence the effectiveness of certain cancer immunotherapy drugs and that manipulating the gut microbiome may potentially expand the numbers of patients who benefit from cancer immunotherapies.

Programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) inhibitors, or so-called immune checkpoint inhibitors, unleash T lymphocyte–mediated immune responses by suppressing the interaction of T inhibitory receptors with ligands on tumor cells. They are highly effective against advanced melanoma, non–small cell lung cancer, and renal cell carcinoma—but only in a minority of patients. Two recent research studies in Science, which examined how patients’ gut microbiomes correlate with their cancers’ response to PD-1 inhibitors, suggest that the gut microbiome may in part account for individual differences in drug efficacy.