The remarkable specificity of the immune system through antigen recognition has long attracted investigators to the possibility of immune-based therapy for cancer. Previous cancer immunotherapeutics had been restricted to non-specific immunomodulatory agents, such as the cytokines IL-2 or IFN-α. However, the molecular definition of cancer-associated antigens introduced the possibility of specific vaccines and adoptive T cell approaches aiming to target the tumor cells more specifically. The recent introduction of total exome sequencing has enabled the identification of patient tumor-specific epitopes generated through somatic point mutations, raising the possibility of targeting tumor antigens in individual patients which are even more tumor-specific. Transcriptional profiling and immunohistochemistry analyses have revealed a subset of patients with a pre-existing T cell-inflamed tumor microenvironment. This phenotype may be predictive of clinical outcome to immunotherapies and offers the possibility of a predictive biomarker. Further analysis of these tumors has identified a set of defined immune suppressive factors which themselves are being targeted with new immunotherapeutics, already with interesting early phase clinical trial results. Understanding not only the expression of tumor antigens but also the dynamic between a growing tumor and the host immune response is thus generating a rich set of opportunities for the specific immunotherapy of cancer.
Copyright © 2012 Federation of European Biochemical Societies. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.