The double life of a chemotherapy drug: Immunomodulatory functions of gemcitabine in cancer

Alaina C. Larson, Kenadie R. Doty, Joyce C. Solheim

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Although the development of immunotherapies has been revolutionary in the treatment of several cancers, many cancer types remain unresponsive to immune-based treatment and are largely managed by chemotherapy drugs. However, chemotherapeutics are not infallible and are frequently rendered ineffective as resistance develops from prolonged exposure. Recent investigations have indicated that some chemotherapy drugs have additional functions beyond their normative cytotoxic capacity and are in fact immune-modifying agents. Of the pharmaceuticals with identified immune-editing properties, gemcitabine is well-studied and of interest to clinicians and scientists alike. Gemcitabine is a chemotherapy drug approved for the treatment of multiple cancers, including breast, lung, pancreatic, and ovarian. Because of its broad applications, relatively low toxicity profile, and history as a favorable combinatory partner, there is promise in the recharacterization of gemcitabine in the context of the immune system. Such efforts may allow the identification of suitable immunotherapeutic combinations, wherein gemcitabine can be used as a priming agent to improve immunotherapy efficacy in traditionally insensitive cancers. This review looks to highlight documented immunomodulatory abilities of one of the most well-known chemotherapy agents, gemcitabine, relating to its influence on cells and proteins of the immune system.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere7287
JournalCancer Medicine
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 2024


  • cancer biology
  • chemotherapy
  • immunology
  • pancreatic cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


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