Immunotherapy is based on the use of drugs that activate the immune system against cancer. In particular they stimulate the immune system to attack the tumor and prevent cancer cells from escaping control of the immune system.
The main difference between immunotherapy and other anti-tumoral therapies is that the target of immunotherapy is not cancer cells but the cells of our immune system that are enhanced against the tumor.
Most of these therapies are still under study and the only effective drugs that we find on the market are used only for a few types of tumors (melanoma, lung and kidney cancer).
The main immunotherapics agents are:
- Interferon alpha: used in the treatment of renal cell carcinoma, melanoma, chronic myeloid leukemia, multiple myeloma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, Kaposi’s sarcoma.
- Aldesleukin (proleuchin®): interleukin used in the treatment of advanced renal cell carcinoma.
- Nivolumab (opdivo®): monoclonal antibody used in the treatment of melanoma, renal cell carcinoma, lung cancer, Hodgkin lymphoma and head-neck tumors.
- Pembrolizumab (keytruda®): monoclonal antibody used in the treatment of melanoma and lung cancer.
- Ipilimumab (yervoy®): monoclonal antibody used in the treatment of melanoma.
- Atezolizumab (tecentriq®): monoclonal antibody used in the treatment of lung and urothelial carcinoma.
- Avelumab (bavencio®): monoclonal antibody used in the treatment of Merkel cell carcinoma.
Since immunotherapics agents do not directly affect the tumor, several weeks are required before beneficial effects are obtained.
The only route of administration of these drugs is intravenous.
The side effects of immunotherapy are generally mild and are different from those triggered by traditional chemotherapy. The adverse effects that can occur, due to excessive work of the immune system, are as follows:
- Flu symptoms
- Drop in blood pressure