Interferons α and β in cancer: therapeutic opportunities from new insights

Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2019 Mar;18(3):219-234. doi: 10.1038/s41573-018-0011-2.


Over the past decade, preclinical and clinical research have confirmed the essential role of interferons for effective host immunological responses to malignant cells. Type I interferons (IFNα and IFNβ) directly regulate transcription of >100 downstream genes, which results in a myriad of direct (on cancer cells) and indirect (through immune effector cells and vasculature) effects on the tumour. New insights into endogenous and exogenous activation of type I interferons in the tumour and its microenvironment have given impetus to drug discovery and patient evaluation of interferon-directed strategies. When combined with prior observations or with other effective modalities for cancer treatment, modulation of the interferon system could contribute to further reductions in cancer morbidity and mortality. This Review discusses new interferon-directed therapeutic opportunities, ranging from cyclic dinucleotides to genome methylation inhibitors, angiogenesis inhibitors, chemoradiation, complexes with neoantigen-targeted monoclonal antibodies, combinations with other emerging therapeutic interventions and associations of interferon-stimulated gene expression with patient prognosis - all of which are strategies that have or will soon enter translational clinical evaluation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Monoclonal / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use*
  • Interferon-alpha / therapeutic use*
  • Interferon-beta / therapeutic use*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Tumor Microenvironment / drug effects*


  • Antibodies, Monoclonal
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Interferon-beta