Cancer Immunotherapy

Also known as: biologic therapy, biotherapy.

What is cancer immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is a different modality of cancer treatment that utilizes the body’s immune system to fight cancerous cells. It can utilize natural factors made by the body or synthetic factors made in the laboratory to help harness and recalibrate the immune system to target the cancer cells and destroy them.

There are many types of immunotherapies such as:

  • monoclonal antibodies
  • T-cell therapy
  • vaccine therapies
  • non-specific immunotherapies
  • oncolytic virus therapy

Is any special preparation needed?

Certain forms of immunotherapies may require a surgical procedure to collect a fresh sample to make the vaccine tailored specifically for the patient’s tumor. Once the vaccine is created then the patient will return in an ambulatory setting for intradermal or subcutaneous injections.

Other forms of therapy may require immune cells to be collected from the blood. Those cells are then engineered and re-educated to attack the tumor. The new cells are then given back to the patient through an intravenous line. For monoclonal antibodies or non-specific forms of immunotherapy the agent is ordered through a pharmacy and is administered intravenously.

What are the side effects?

The side effects depends on the modality of immunotherapy that is utilized. The side effects also can range from mild, moderate to life threatening.

Most of the side effects mimic an immune response and include fever, fatigue, rash, dizziness, anaphylaxis (severe allergy), cytokine release syndrome, weight gain, respiratory distress and flu-like symptoms.

What biologic and immunotherapies are available at Nicklaus Children's Hospital?

We currently have several clinical trials in progress at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital:

  • Vigil, previously called FANG, is a vaccine for Ewing’s sarcoma, the second most common primary bone malignancy in children and adolescents.
  • Novimmune - A monoclonal antibody for patients with Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis (HLH), a life-threatening immune system disorder.
  • Chimeric 14.18 and IL-2 - Used for the treatment of Neuroblastoma, the most common form of cancer affecting infants. The ch14.18 monoclonal antibody specifically targets a substance called GD2 that is found at high levels on the surface of neuroblastoma cells. When the immune system detects the presence of the antibody on the cancer cells, it triggers responses that kill the cancer cells. Interleukin-2 (IL-2) is a protein that regulates the activities of white blood cells that are responsible for immunity.
  • Monoclonal Antibody-based treatments - Treatment for Leukemia and Solid Tumors. Monoclonal Antibodies are man-made versions of immune system proteins which can be very useful in treating cancer because they can be designed to attack a very specific part of a cancer cell.

Reviewed by: Guillermo R De Angulo, MD

This page was last updated on: December 18, 2020 11:47 AM

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