Immunotherapy: building the fourth pillar of cancer treatment

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Cancer treatment has been traditionally characterised by surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. However, in the late 20th century, a fourth element entered the mainstream: immunotherapies.

To appreciate and understand the promising future of immunotherapy in cancer treatment, it is important to reflect on the ground-breaking research and innovations that have paved the way for new cancer treatments over the past century. Here, we chart the remarkable history of immunotherapies and ongoing efforts to make them even more effective.


Fehleisen and Busch explore immune system modulation in cancer

The first scientific attempt to harness immune system modulation to combat cancer appeared in the 19th century after German physicians F Fehleisen and W Busch independently identified a link between accidental erysipelas infections in cancer patients and subsequent spontaneous tumour regression.

Building upon this hypothesis, both physicians sought to confirm this connection by intentionally injecting the erysipelas-causing Streptococcus bacteria into the tumours of several cancer patients. Following the infection, Fehleisen reported tumour shrinkage in three of the seven trial participants, indicating that the immune system had a modulatory role in treating cancer.

• Read the full article in pharmaphorum's Deep Dive digital magazine