Beginning in 2004, GlaxoSmithKline ran 5 different trials to see if giving patients a molecule called IL-18 could treat their cancers. An early form of immunotherapy, it was supposed to boost the body’s natural ability to fight tumors.
It didn’t. The largest of the studies was terminated early; the tumors progressed after around 7 months no matter how much IL-18 you gave them. The field eventually moved on both from IL-18 and, to a degree, from the class of immune modulators, called cytokines, in general.
Failure is par the course in cancer research. Still, this particular failure bothered Yale immunologist Aaron Ring. Similar molecules, IL-2 and IL-15, had been approved as drugs, and when he searched a couple years ago for pathways that may have been overlooked in drug development, the search turned up IL-18; T cells and natural kill