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Immunotherapy 101Immunotherapy harnesses the human immune system to fight off cancer. Here's how. Immunotherapy advance to content
Understanding Immunotherapy
Four Reasons Why the Immune System is the Perfect Anti-Cancer Agent
Unrivaled Diversity
Contains a trillion times more T cells than all the drug libraries of every pharmaceutical company in the world combined
Target Specificity
1,000 times more specific than a typical drug
Powerful Weaponry
16 different molecular warheads that can kill a cancer cell
Lifelong Memory
Once educated, it remembers how to fight back
Understanding BKI's Approach
Brakes and Accelerators

Some cancers apply the brakes (for example, PD-1) to the immune system. As a result, the immune system can't fight the cancer.

Anti-PD-1 immunotherapies disable the brakes, allowing the immune system to fight the cancer under its own momentum.

Other cancers require the brakes to be disabled and for the immune system to be accelerated.

Doctors use a combination of therapies to release the brakes and to press the accelerator on the immune system.

These more challenging cancers really need the accelerator to be pushed hard after disabling the brakes.

They may require combinations of therapies, including cancer vaccines and a variety of immunotherapies.

Fast Facts
About Checkpoint Blockers

Types of cancer respond to this immunotherapy. Some patients have seen their cancer go from stage 4 to undetectable. Others have had tumors shrink drastically and stay that way for years.


Anti-PD-1 therapy, a type of checkpoint inhibitor drug, was developed at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.


Years of basic research at Johns Hopkins and BKI led to the development of leading checkpoint inhibitor drugs.

Cancer Vaccines

Therapeutic cancer vaccines supercharge the immune system by calling immune cells to the tumor site and causing them to seek out and kill cancer cells throughout the body.

Therapeutic vaccines are different from preventive vaccines, like the HPV vaccine, or the measles vaccine. Preventive vaccines are given to healthy people and are not a form of immunotherapy. Therapeutic vaccines are given to people who already have a disease — to help their bodies' own defenses fight off the illness.

More on Cancer Vaccines
Fast Facts
About Cancer Vaccines

A vaccine for pancreatic cancer developed by cancer researchers at Johns Hopkins is being tested in clinical trials at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

There are a few different approaches to using the vaccine: Give it before surgery; combine it with other immune-modulating drugs; or add a second kind of vaccine, a weakened version of the bacterium listeria.

Johns Hopkins investigators are also exploring therapeutic vaccines that can be used for breast, colon, ovarian and lung cancers.

Personalized Cell Therapy

Personalized cell therapy, also called adoptive T cell therapy, is a form of immunotherapy that increases the number of disease-fighting immune cells in the body.

With this approach, T cells are collected from a patient and grown or treated with antibodies in a laboratory. The cells are then infused back into the patient's bloodstream, where they fight off infections or cancer cells.

Learn About Cell Therapy
Fast Facts
About Cell Therapy

At Johns Hopkins, researchers have developed a new type of adoptive T cell therapy focused on treating high-risk multiple myeloma patients. The procedure collects a specific type of T cell from the bone marrow, called marrow-infiltrating lymphocytes (MILs), and then uses the MILs in combination with chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant to treat and control the cancer.

Understanding MILs
Harnessing an Immune System Factory
Bone marrow contains effective cancer fighting cells
Cancer-fighting immune cells are made by our bone marrow and can be collected and used for therapy.

Bone Marrow is the factory for blood and immune cells. Bone marrow makes 500 billion blood and immune cells each day.

Bone marrow contains special immune cells that are primed to fight specific types of cancer.

Three Steps to Bone Marrow Immune Cell Therapy
Collect immune cells from patient
BKI scientists collect cancer-fighting cells from a patient's bone marrow.
Expand their numbers in lab
These cancer-fighting cells are multiplied in the lab.
Give cells back to patient
These cells are reintroduced to the patient by IV to seek out and destroy cancer cells.
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