• Immune cell therapy may provide alternatives to chemotherapy as a way of treating cancer.

Immune cell therapy may provide alternatives to chemotherapy as a way of treating cancer. (Photo : REUTERS)

Companies are investing in the research and development of the immunological treatment of cancer, known as cancer immunology or immunotheraphy, despite some concerns regarding safety or effectiveness.

Up to eight listed companies have already started investing in immune cell treatment over the last two years. Some of these businesses, such as Shanghai Canature Environmental Products Company and Shanghai Yaoji Playing Card Company, are not even medical in nature.

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Since May, China has been allowing screening procedures for immune cell treatment, but only for the purpose of clinical research and not medical treatment.

Using immune cells to treat cancer is a relatively new idea compared to other established treatments, like chemo therapy and radiotherapy. However, there are several research facilities worldwide that currently believe that it can be the new way to treat cancer.

The medical community has recognized immune cell therapy as an effective way to treat blood cancer in cases where more common treatments have failed. Research is now moving toward understanding whether it can also be used in treating liver and lung cancers.

In December, Swiss pharmaceutical company Novartis said that its CAR-T immunological therapy has a lot of potential in treating blood cancer patients.

CAR-T immunological therapy works by extracting T cells from the patient. These T cells are then engineered to recognize cancer cells by targeting certain proteins that are found in cancer cells and some healthy cells. These T cells are then injected back into the patient to fight the cancer.

In the United States, immunological therapy to treat blood cancer can cost between $300,000 to $400,000 per patient.

In China, an entire course of immune cell treatment can cost between 300,000 yuan to 500,000 yuan ($48,000-$80,000). It has been suggested that it can double the five-year survival rate of Chinese patients and have an 80-percent success rate in eliminating malignant tumors.

However, it has not been completely accepted as a medical treatment.

Jiang Gengxi, a thoracic surgeon at Changhai Hospital in Shanghai, said that "immune cell therapy has not been opened up mainly because there have been no dramatic changes in the life expectancy of cancer patients."

Jiang also added that foreign insurance companies do not recognize immune cell treatment and will not cover it.

Still, many businesses are trying to invest in immune cell cancer therapy.

In 2013, the editors of "Science," the flagship journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, called cancer immunology the "Breakthrough of the Year."