Immunotherapy isn’t entirely new, but it’s quickly becoming a major player in the world of cancer care and treatment.

For instance, the global market for immunotherapy drugs is estimated to register a 8.9% CAGR from 2018 to 2023, and Grand View Research is predicting that it will reach nearly $127 billion annually by 2026.

While that might sound enormous, it’s just numbers compared to the impact it has in a doctor’s office when immunotherapy treatment gives a newly diagnosed cancer patient hope.

From fighting cancer to developing a COVID-19 vaccine, immunotherapy is changing the face of medicine. They are also presenting a frontier of innovative solutions that are driving growth in pharmaceutical and biotech industries. 

What Is Immunotherapy?

Our immune systems are smart. A “collection of organs, special cells, and substances” that keep tabs on what’s supposed to be happening in our bodies, and what’s not. 

So, for example, if it notices a germ that contains unusual proteins that is out of place, it attacks. 

But what happens when normal cells start to change in a subtle way, but nothing is really out of place… until the healthy cells start to become more unusual and grow in an uncontrolled way? This is cancer, defined as “a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells.” And, because it starts in healthy cells, it can be so tricky for the immune system to stop it before it’s too late.

Immunotherapy is changing that. 

According to the American Cancer Society, “immunotherapy is treatment that uses certain parts of a person’s immune system to fight diseases.”

It does so in one of two ways: Either by “stimulating, or boosting, the natural defenses of your immune system so it works harder or smarter to find and attack cancer cells,” or by “making substances in a lab that are just like immune system components and using them to help restore or improve how your immune system works to find and attack cancer cells.”

In other words, it helps a patient’s immune system recognize cancer and attack. 

Why Invest in immunotherapy?

In 2020, there will be an estimated 1.8 million new cancer cases diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society. Immunotherapy is changing the course of treatment for many of those diagnoses, which  treatments were traditionally limited to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. 

New immunotherapy drugs are most commonly being used to fight cancers of the lung, breast, and prostate.

And, even more exciting, they are getting in the cancer game sooner than ever. Coined immuno-oncology (IO) drugs, this subset of immunotherapy drugs give a patient’s immune system the ability to fight cancer cells at an early stage. This can make other more traditional treatments, like surgery, more effective, or potentially unnecessary all together. 

Immunotherapies are becoming increasingly more complex. For example, immunotherapies are increasingly being combined in creative ways to treat GI cancers. Even more, simple blood tests have shown to identify which patients may have the most success with immunotherapies. 

But, immunotherapy isn’t limited to cancer alone. It’s also being used to fight allergies.

A preventative treatment, immunotherapy for allergies can train the body to slowly become less allergic to a specific substance. Typically, an allergen is given via an allergy shot in incrementally larger doses which causes the immune system to “become less sensitive” to the allergen. Over time, small incremental doses train and change the immune system, building up a tolerance for allergens. Treatments typically happen over the course of three to five years, according to the Mayo Clinic

It could even give us answers for COVID-19. 

The Infectious Disease Research Institute has reported positive results after a clinical trial focuses on the treatment of moderate to severe COVID-19 cases. And, because “cancer behaves like a virus,” the same immunotherapy tools being used to fight cancer are also being employed in the development of COVID-19 vaccines.

If personalized medicine is the care model of the future, immunotherapy, or using a patient’s immune system to battle disease, is as personal as it gets. It’s already delivering cures, and in the race for a COVID-19 vaccine, immunotherapy tools are giving a pandemic-stricken world hope. 

How to Invest in Immunotherapy

Key players in the development of new immunotherapies include companies such as: Amgen, AstraZeneca, La Roche, Bayer AG, Bristol-Myers Squibb and many more from the pharmaceuticals space. But given the wide-ranging interest in immunotherapy drug development, it can be difficult for investors to access the whole world of these treatments by investing in individual companies.

However, a search on Magnifi suggests that there are a number of ETFs and mutual funds dedicated to immunotherapy.

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The information and data are as of the August 12, 2020 (publish date) unless otherwise noted and subject to change. This blog is sponsored by Magnifi.

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