Increased understanding of immune- and tumour-cell biology has led to an explosion of research into potential ways to harness the immune system to kill cancer. By Emily Elert.
Natural immune response
The body's specific immune response begins when specialized immune cells present pieces of foreign matter, called antigens, to immature immune cells in the lymph nodes (Figure 1).
Current cancer immunotherapies can be broken down into three major types: non-specific therapies, monoclonal antibodies and vaccines (Figure 2).
Searching for synergy
Single immunotherapies have been only modestly effective, so researchers are searching for synergistic combinations of drugs. The ideal attack below includes existing therapies, drugs in clinical trials and theoretical compounds (Figure 3).
Immunotherapies on trial
The number of cancer immunotherapies in phase III clinical trials has risen sharply since the early 1990s, reflecting renewed interest in immune-based cancer treatments among researchers and drug-makers (Figure 4).
A durable concept
Milestones in the history of cancer immunotherapy (Figure 5).
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Elert, E. Calling cells to arms. Nature 504, S2–S3 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1038/504S2a
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