Previously, clinical approaches to using the immune system against cancer focused on vaccines that intended to specifically initiate or amplify a host response against evolving tumours. Although vaccine approaches have had some clinical success, most cancer vaccines fail to induce objective tumour shrinkage in patients. More-recent approaches have centred on a series of molecules known as immune checkpoints - whose natural function is to restrain or dampen a potentially over-exuberant response. Blocking immune checkpoint molecules with monoclonal antibodies has emerged as a viable clinical strategy that mediates tumour shrinkage in several cancer types. In addition to being part of the current treatment armamentarium for metastatic melanoma, immune checkpoint blockade is currently undergoing phase III testing in several cancer types.
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