Activating the immune system for therapeutic benefit in cancer has long been a goal in immunology and oncology. After decades of disappointment, the tide has finally changed due to the success of recent proof-of-concept clinical trials. Most notable has been the ability of the anti-CTLA4 antibody, ipilimumab, to achieve a significant increase in survival for patients with metastatic melanoma, for which conventional therapies have failed. In the context of advances in the understanding of how tolerance, immunity and immunosuppression regulate antitumour immune responses together with the advent of targeted therapies, these successes suggest that active immunotherapy represents a path to obtain a durable and long-lasting response in cancer patients.
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This article is dedicated to the memory of our mentor, friend and inspiration Ralph Steinman, whose scientific life was dedicated to advancing the field of immunology in general and cancer immunotherapy in particular (he died shortly before being awarded the Nobel prize).
I.M. is an employee of Genentech, although no Genentech programs are specifically referred to in this review.
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