Research Topic

Targeted Immunotherapy for Cancer

About this Research Topic

Immunotherapy has shown great promise in the treatment of many cancers, but also suffers from drawbacks such as the development of autoimmunity and lack of efficacy in most forms of cancer. In contrast to traditional chemo- or radiation therapies that kill fast-dividing cells whether cancerous or normal, the goal of cancer immunotherapy is to eliminate malignant cells based on their antigenic makeup, their tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) or neoantigens. Unlike checkpoint inhibition, which addresses the ability of cancers to evade an immune response, targeted immunotherapies strive to induce a specific immune response to TAAs, inducing an immune response targeted to the cancer. There are several viable ways to induce an immune response against TAAs including vaccine-based approaches, which require display of antigenic peptides by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. Approaches to targeted immunotherapies or “therapeutic cancer vaccines” have included peptide and protein tumor antigens or neoantigens, dendritic cells pulsed with cancer antigens, DNA vaccines and whole tumor cells.

Targeted immunotherapies have been clinically tested against leukemia, melanoma, pancreatic, prostate, breast, lung, and colon cancers. While there have been several failed clinical studies, there have been notable successes (such as antigen-pulsed activated dendritic cells in prostate cancer) and important insights have been gained. One key insight is the ability of cancers to selectively turn off the immune system using “immune checkpoints”. Checkpoint inhibitors, such as antibodies to PD-1, PD-L1 or CTLA4, show pharmacologic activity in those cancers which have elicited an immune response often regress. The pharmacology of targeted immunotherapies relies on their ability to induce a cancer-specific immune response. This suggests that combination of targeted immunotherapies with checkpoint inhibitors might show synergistic pharmacologic activity in inducing effective anti-cancer immune responses.

The purpose of this Research Topic will be to probe deeply into the data available and chart the path forward for targeted immunotherapies. Article types will include Original Research articles, Reviews and Opinion/Hypothesis papers. Specific areas will include human clinical data (clinical trials) and pre-clinical/animal studies. Sub-topics for both clinical and pre-clinical categories will include cell-based immunotherapies, neoantigen approaches, tumor associated antigens, DNA immunogens, and other antigen-specific approaches.



Topic Editor, William Williams, is the president and CEO of BriaCell, which is developing a targeted immunotherapy for breast cancer. This includes raising money to support research and clinical programs and applying for grants. All other Topic Editors declare no competing interests with regards to the Research Topic subject.


Keywords: Cancer, Immunotherapy, Oncology, Antigen, Vaccine


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

Immunotherapy has shown great promise in the treatment of many cancers, but also suffers from drawbacks such as the development of autoimmunity and lack of efficacy in most forms of cancer. In contrast to traditional chemo- or radiation therapies that kill fast-dividing cells whether cancerous or normal, the goal of cancer immunotherapy is to eliminate malignant cells based on their antigenic makeup, their tumor-associated antigens (TAAs) or neoantigens. Unlike checkpoint inhibition, which addresses the ability of cancers to evade an immune response, targeted immunotherapies strive to induce a specific immune response to TAAs, inducing an immune response targeted to the cancer. There are several viable ways to induce an immune response against TAAs including vaccine-based approaches, which require display of antigenic peptides by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules. Approaches to targeted immunotherapies or “therapeutic cancer vaccines” have included peptide and protein tumor antigens or neoantigens, dendritic cells pulsed with cancer antigens, DNA vaccines and whole tumor cells.

Targeted immunotherapies have been clinically tested against leukemia, melanoma, pancreatic, prostate, breast, lung, and colon cancers. While there have been several failed clinical studies, there have been notable successes (such as antigen-pulsed activated dendritic cells in prostate cancer) and important insights have been gained. One key insight is the ability of cancers to selectively turn off the immune system using “immune checkpoints”. Checkpoint inhibitors, such as antibodies to PD-1, PD-L1 or CTLA4, show pharmacologic activity in those cancers which have elicited an immune response often regress. The pharmacology of targeted immunotherapies relies on their ability to induce a cancer-specific immune response. This suggests that combination of targeted immunotherapies with checkpoint inhibitors might show synergistic pharmacologic activity in inducing effective anti-cancer immune responses.

The purpose of this Research Topic will be to probe deeply into the data available and chart the path forward for targeted immunotherapies. Article types will include Original Research articles, Reviews and Opinion/Hypothesis papers. Specific areas will include human clinical data (clinical trials) and pre-clinical/animal studies. Sub-topics for both clinical and pre-clinical categories will include cell-based immunotherapies, neoantigen approaches, tumor associated antigens, DNA immunogens, and other antigen-specific approaches.



Topic Editor, William Williams, is the president and CEO of BriaCell, which is developing a targeted immunotherapy for breast cancer. This includes raising money to support research and clinical programs and applying for grants. All other Topic Editors declare no competing interests with regards to the Research Topic subject.


Keywords: Cancer, Immunotherapy, Oncology, Antigen, Vaccine


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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Submission Deadlines

17 March 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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Topic Editors

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Submission Deadlines

17 March 2020 Manuscript

Participating Journals

Manuscripts can be submitted to this Research Topic via the following journals:

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