Non-specific immunotherapy: stimulating the immune system

Non-specific immunotherapy is perhaps the oldest of all immunotherapy concepts. Its principle is relatively simple: to boost the immune system. This over-activation increases the probability that it will attack cancerous cells.

Research quickly focused on stimulation using a family of molecules known as cytokines.

These molecules, produced by the cells of the immune system, control the activity of other immunity cells. They play a vital role in signaling and communication between the various protagonists of the immune response, their activation and their proliferation.

Administered alone or combined with other treatments, two types of cytokine are able to stimulate immunity against cancer: interferon and interleukin. They may in fact be produced in the laboratory.

Interferon is recommended in the treatment of leukemia, lymphoma, and some forms of bone marrow cancer and skin melanoma. Interleukin 2 is recommended in the treatment of certain types of kidney cancer and some melanomas.

However, the immune response that they stimulate is not very specific: it acts blindly, without targeting only the tumor cells and produces significant side effects, such as nausea and fever, explains Dr Delphine Loirat, medical oncologist and a specialist in clinical immunotherapy trials.