Coley's toxins, tumor necrosis factor and cancer research: a historical perspective

Pharmacol Ther. 1994;64(3):529-64. doi: 10.1016/0163-7258(94)90023-x.


As far back as the 1700s, it was recorded that certain infectious disease processes could exert a beneficial therapeutic effect upon malignancy. Most prominent among the numerous deliberate efforts made to take advantage of these observations was that of a pioneering New York surgeon, William B. Coley, active career 1891-1936. Using a bacterial vaccine to treat primarily inoperable sarcoma. Coley accomplished a cure rate of better than 10%. This review examines the history of these efforts and presents a discussion of their corresponding relevance to present day immunotherapy.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Toxins / therapeutic use*
  • Bacterial Vaccines / history*
  • Bacterial Vaccines / therapeutic use
  • Erysipelas / complications
  • Erysipelas / immunology*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Immunotherapy / history*
  • Neoplasms / history
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / therapy
  • Sarcoma / history*
  • Sarcoma / immunology
  • Sarcoma / therapy
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / therapeutic use*
  • United States


  • Bacterial Toxins
  • Bacterial Vaccines
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha

Personal name as subject

  • W B Coley