Physicians and researchers are looking for ways to harness the body’s ability to fight cancer through immunotherapy. Immune cells are designed to attack foreign cells. However, because of the ways cancer develops through healthy cells undergoing abnormal changes, the immune system does not always attack cancerous cells. Immunotherapy is designed to trigger the body’s own immune system helping it to target and destroy cancerous cells.


Different immunotherapy treatments tap into the immune system in individualized ways, from helping the body recognize cancer cells to boosting the immune system response. Some different types of immunotherapy include:

  • Monoclonal antibodies
  • Checkpoint blockade
  • Vaccines
  • Cellular immunotherapy

At Moffitt Cancer Center, our scientists and clinicians are continually researching and developing novel immunotherapy treatments for various types of cancer and we continue to gain ground in understanding and treating all forms of this complex disease.

Immunotherapy Breakthroughs at Moffitt

Moffitt’s Dr. Frederick Locke is one of the pioneers of CAR T therapy, a cellular immunotherapy that engineers a patient’s own immune T cells to target and fight cancer. Now an FDA-approved treatment, early results are providing hope for adult patients with chemotherapy-resistant forms of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and relapsed or refractory large B-cell lymphoma. As one of the few cancer centers approved to offer this lifesaving therapy, Moffitt is giving more patients the options they need. Researchers at Moffitt are also working to expand this revolutionary therapy to other cancers.

Dr. Brian Czerniecki and colleagues of Moffitt’s Breast Oncology Department have developed a new vaccine to help early stage breast cancer patients with HER2-positive diseases. This personalized vaccine, designed to prevent recurrence, is created with immune cells called dendritic cells. These cells help the body recognize and break down cancer cells so that T cells can come and destroy them. By collecting a patient’s dendritic cells and using them to create a personalized vaccine, this immunotherapy helps the patient’s immune system direct an attack on the progression of breast cancer by targeting the HER2 protein. The HER2 protein is overexpressed in nearly a quarter of all breast cancer tumors and is associated with aggressive disease and poor prognosis.

Moffitt’s researchers also look for ways to expand immunotherapy treatment options to additional cancer types. The FDA recently expanded approval of Imfinzi (durvalumab), a checkpoint blockade immunotherapy that increases T cell activation by blocking the PD-L1 protein that disguises cancer cells. Originally approved for certain types of bladder cancer, the treatment is now available for patients with stage III non-small cell lung cancer. The expanded use approval stems from a global clinical trial led by Moffitt thoracic oncologist Dr. Scott Antonia. Working with AstraZeneca, he launched a randomized, double-blind clinical trial that spanned over 20 centers and more than 700 patients.

"For 20 years we’ve treated stage III, locally advanced, unresectable, non-small cell lung cancer with chemotherapy and radiation, but 85 percent do not respond. By adding Imfinzi to the traditional standard of care, we’ve seen a huge difference in progression-free survival," said Antonia.

Immunotherapy is a fast-growing area of research at Moffitt. As we discover promising new treatment options, we are committed to bringing those treatments to clinical trials as quickly as possible so that our patients can benefit from them. Our scientific breakthroughs have not only earned us recognition as a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, but also allow us the opportunity to provide each patient with an innovative treatment plan that is carefully tailored to the specifics of his or her diagnosis.

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