Immunogenic chemotherapy: Dose and schedule dependence and combination with immunotherapy

Cancer Lett. 2018 Apr 10;419:210-221. doi: 10.1016/j.canlet.2018.01.050.


Conventional cytotoxic cancer chemotherapy is often immunosuppressive and associated with drug resistance and tumor regrowth after a short period of tumor shrinkage or growth stasis. However, certain cytotoxic cancer chemotherapeutic drugs, including doxorubicin, mitoxantrone, and cyclophosphamide, can kill tumor cells by an immunogenic cell death pathway, which activates robust innate and adaptive anti-tumor immune responses and has the potential to greatly increase the efficacy of chemotherapy. Here, we review studies on chemotherapeutic drug-induced immunogenic cell death, focusing on how the choice of a conventional cytotoxic agent and its dose and schedule impact anti-tumor immune responses. We propose a strategy for effective immunogenic chemotherapy that employs a modified metronomic schedule for drug delivery, which we term medium-dose intermittent chemotherapy (MEDIC). Striking responses have been seen in preclinical cancer models using MEDIC, where an immunogenic cancer chemotherapeutic agent is administered intermittently and at an intermediate dose, designed to impart strong and repeated cytotoxic damage to tumors, and on a schedule compatible with activation of a sustained anti-tumor immune response, thereby maximizing anti-cancer activity. We also discuss strategies for combination chemo-immunotherapy, and we outline approaches to identify new immunogenic chemotherapeutic agents for drug development.

Keywords: Anti-cancer drug scheduling; Anti-tumor immunity; Drug development; Immune memory; Immune suppression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Metronomic
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cell Survival / immunology
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Xenograft Model Antitumor Assays


  • Antineoplastic Agents