Immunotherapy types

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There are different types of immunotherapy and each works differently. Some help the immune system stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. Others help the immune system destroy cancer cells or prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of the body (metastasis). Immunotherapy treatments can be used separately or in combination with others.

Immunotherapy with antibodies

The classic therapies with good clinical results for the longest time are based mainly on the use of antibodies.

These antibodies can perform different functions:

HER2 membrane receptor cell

Blockers: These prevent tumour growth. An example is cetuximab (Erbitux®), used as a first-line treatment against colon cancer.

Célula en proceso de muerte celular o apoptosis.

These induce the death of cancer cells. Examples of these antibodies are anti-CD20 (rituximab, MabThera®), used in non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and anti-CD52 (alemtuzumab, Campath®), administered for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia.

Immune system cell with antibodies

These prevent the deactivation of the T lymphocyte-mediated response. Very positive results have been obtained with anti-CTLA4 (ipilimumab, Yervoy®), anti-PD1 (nivolumab) and anti-PDL1 blocking antibodies, which have been effective against solid tumours at very advanced stages.

Sample tube and antibodies for Ro (or SS-A) and La (or SS-B) test

Immunostimulants: Clinical trials are underway using antibodies that stimulate the substances CD27 and CD137.

Non-specific immunotherapy

Non-specific immunotherapy also helps the immune system destroy cancer cells. Most people receive this type of therapy after other cancer treatments or alongside chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

The two most commonly used non-specific immunotherapies are:

Antinuclear Anti-Nuclear Antibody or ANA Test

Interferons. Interferons are proteins produced by the immune system to alert the body that a pathogen, usually a virus, is present. Interferons can be produced in vitro to help the immune system fight cancer. They can also slow the growth of cancer cells.

Sample tube with cryoglobulins

Interleukins. Interleukins are proteins that help cells communicate and can initiate an immune system response. Interleukin-2 (IL-2), or aldesleukin (Proleukin®), produced in the laboratory, may be indicated in kidney cancer and skin cancer, including melanoma.

Oncolytic virus therapy

virus oncolítico

Viruses modified in a laboratory are used in oncolytic virus therapy to destroy cancer cells, leaving healthy cells intact.

First, a genetically modified virus is injected into the tumour. The virus penetrates the cancer cells and reproduces. As a result, the cancer cells burst and die. As the cells die, they release proteins that trigger the immune system to target any cancer cells in the body that have the same proteins as the dead cancer cells. The virus does not enter healthy cells.

Immunotherapy with dendritic cells or anti-tumour vaccines

célula dendrítica

A dendritic cell is a type of immune cell. It is found in tissues such as the skin and stimulates immune responses by presenting antigens to other immune system cells. The process is carried out by the injection in the form of a vaccine of dendritic cells with tumour antigens. This process helps the immune system to recognise tumour molecules (antigens).

T-cell therapy

linfocito T

T-cell therapy is divided into 3 main groups:

  • CAR T-cells: This therapy uses genetically modified T cells. They are modified to express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR).
  • TILs: Tumour-infiltrating lymphocytes are used.
  • TCR-T: genetically modified T lymphocytes are used in this therapy. They are modified to express a specific T-cell receptor (TCR).

Both therapies require the extraction of these cells from the patients themselves for subsequent re-administration.

Substantiated information by:

Mariona Pascal Capdevila
Sergio Navarro Velázquez

Published: 21 September 2023
Updated: 21 September 2023


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