Development of Cancer Immunotherapies

Cancer Treat Res. 2022;183:1-48. doi: 10.1007/978-3-030-96376-7_1.


Cancer immunotherapy, or the utilization of components of the immune system to target and eliminate cancer, has become a highly active area of research in the past several decades and a common treatment strategy for several cancer types. The concept of harnessing the immune system for this purpose originated over 100 years ago when a physician by the name of William Coley successfully treated several of his cancer patients with a combination of live and attenuated bacteria, later known as "Coley's Toxins", after observing a subset of prior patients enter remission following their diagnosis with the common bacterial infection, erysipelas. However, it was not until late in the twentieth century that cancer immunotherapies were developed for widespread use, thereby transforming the treatment landscape of numerous cancer types. Pivotal studies elucidating molecular and cellular functions of immune cells, such as the discovery of IL-2 and production of monoclonal antibodies, fostered the development of novel techniques for studying the immune system and ultimately the development and approval of several cancer immunotherapies by the United States Food and Drug Association in the 1980s and 1990s, including the tuberculosis vaccine-Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, IL-2, and the CD20-targeting monoclonal antibody. Approval of the first therapeutic cancer vaccine, Sipuleucel-T, for the treatment of metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer and the groundbreaking success and approval of immune checkpoint inhibitors and chimeric antigen receptor T cell therapy in the last decade, have driven an explosion of interest in and pursuit of novel cancer immunotherapy strategies. A broad range of modalities ranging from antibodies to adoptive T cell therapies is under investigation for the generalized treatment of a broad spectrum of cancers as well as personalized medicine. This chapter will focus on the recent advances, current strategies, and future outlook of immunotherapy development for the treatment of cancer.

Keywords: Active cancer immunotherapy; Antibodies; Cancer vaccines; Immune checkpoint inhibition; Passive cancer immunotherapy; T cell therapies.

MeSH terms

  • Cancer Vaccines* / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / methods
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive
  • Interleukin-2
  • Male
  • Prostatic Neoplasms* / therapy


  • Cancer Vaccines
  • Interleukin-2