Highlights into historical and current immune interventions for cancer

Kathryn Cole, Zaid Al-Kadhimi, James E. Talmadge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Immunotherapy is an additional pillar when combined with traditional standards of care such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery for cancer patients. It has revolutionized cancer treatment and rejuvenated the field of tumor immunology. Several types of immunotherapies, including adoptive cellular therapy (ACT) and checkpoint inhibitors (CPIs), can induce durable clinical responses. However, their efficacies vary, and only subsets of cancer patients benefit from their use. In this review, we address three goals: to provide insight into the history of these approaches, broaden our understanding of immune interventions, and discuss current and future approaches. We highlight how cancer immunotherapy has evolved and discuss how personalization of immune intervention may address present limitations. Cancer immunotherapy is considered a recent medical achievement and in 2013 was selected as the “Breakthrough of the Year” by Science. While the breadth of immunotherapeutics has been rapidly expanding, to include the use of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy and immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) therapy, immunotherapy dates back over 3000 years. The expansive history of immunotherapy, and related observations, have resulted in several approved immune therapeutics beyond the recent emphasis on CAR-T and ICI therapies. In addition to other classical forms of immune intervention, including human papillomavirus (HPV), hepatitis B, and the Mycobacterium bovis Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) tuberculosis vaccines, immunotherapies have had a broad and durable impact on cancer therapy and prevention. One classic example of immunotherapy was identified in 1976 with the use of intravesical administration of BCG in patients with bladder cancer; resulting in a 70 % eradication rate and is now standard of care. However, a greater impact from the use of immunotherapy is documented by the prevention of HPV infections that are responsible for 98 % of cervical cancer cases. In 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that 341,831 women died from cervical cancer [1]. However, administration of a single dose of a bivalent HPV vaccine was shown to be 97.5 % effective in preventing HPV infections. These vaccines not only prevent cervical squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma, but also oropharyngeal, anal, vulvar, vaginal, and penile squamous cell carcinomas. The breadth, response and durability of these vaccines can be contrasted with CAR-T-cell therapies, which have significant barriers to their widespread use including logistics, manufacturing limitations, toxicity concerns, financial burden and lasting remissions observed in only 30 to 40 % of responding patients. Another, recent immunotherapy focus are ICIs. ICIs are a class of antibodies that can increase the immune responses against cancer cells in patients. However, ICIs are only effective against tumors with a high mutational burden and are associated with a broad spectrum of toxicities requiring interruption of administration and/or administration corticosteroids; both of which limit immune therapy. In summary, immune therapeutics have a broad impact worldwide, utilizing numerous mechanisms of action and when considered in their totality are more effective against a broader range of tumors than initially considered. These new cancer interventions have tremendous potential notability when multiple mechanisms of immune intervention are combined as well as with standard of care modalities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number109882
JournalInternational Immunopharmacology
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Bacille Calmette-Guérin
  • CAR-T
  • Cancer immunotherapy
  • Checkpoint inhibitors
  • Vaccine
  • and Adjuvant

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Pharmacology


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