Immunotherapy Strategies

Immunotherapy Strategies

Three types of treatments being studied, developed and tested at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre:

Revolutionizing Cancer Therapy

Immunotherapy is rapidly gaining recognition for its potential to change the way we treat cancer and to join chemotherapy, radiation and surgery as a fourth pillar of cancer treatment.

Within the international scientific community, it has been long understood that the immune system has the ability to conquer cancer. 

We’re now at a point where this knowledge has started to become translated into treatment possibilities for cancer patients.

We have already seen numerous success stories of cancers fought and lives extended through immunotherapy.




Adoptive T-Cell Therapy When the immune system unleashes a response against a threat, it sends the T-cell to do its bidding. 

The T-cells are a key part of the immune system’s arsenal, able to attack and kill cancer cells.

In fact, there are T-cells found in tumours that can kill cancer cells. The problem is that there are often not enough of them inside a tumour to get the job done.

That’s where adoptive T-cell therapy comes in – it’s a method of boosting the number of T-cells inside a patient. “We’re trying to engineer an immune response by taking cells from a patient and modifying them in such a way, so that they can fight the cancer more effectively,” says Dr. Marcus Butler of Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

In this type of immunotherapy, T-cell samples are taken from a patient’s tumour and laboratory methods are used to boost their overall numbers and their tumour-fighting abilities. They are then put back into the patient.

This type of immunotherapy has shown good results in patients treated at major cancer centres around the world. The complex technology needed to produce T-cells for clinical use can only be found in comprehensive cancer centres like The Princess Margaret.






Cancer VaccinesThe goal of cancer vaccines is to get T-cells to recognize the presence of cancer and fight back.

Dr. Christopher Paige leads a laboratory where cancer cells are genetically modified to make them more visible to the immune system. The modified cancer cells are returned to the body where they activate immune system T-cells which spread throughout the body killing both the modified cancer cells and any other residual cancer cells that are present.

This is considered to be a therapeutic vaccine as it is designed to be used after a cancer has appeared. This is a different concept from vaccines that prevent something from occurring in the first place, such as the vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) that causes cervical cancer.
Other cancer research seeks to stimulate the immune system by using a type of immune cell that helps spur T-cells into action – the dendritic cell. Dendritic cells can be loaded with cancer-specific substances that are recognized by the immune system, triggering an anti-cancer immune response.






Immune Checkpoint BlockadeThe immune system has to be able to take on invaders without damaging normal tissue. To do that, it must turn off or limit its attack at key points – scientists call these immune checkpoints.

A type of immunotherapy called immune checkpoint blockade uses drugs to get the immune system to ignore the stop signals at these checkpoints. Conceptually, we think about this as releasing the brakes on the immune system. 

Immune checkpoint blockade has shown impressive results when tested against certain cancers. 

Currently, there are many studies taking place at The Princess Margaret that are focused on improving our understanding of immune checkpoint blockades for multiple types of cancer.
The Cancer Warrior Unleashed

The Cancer Warrior Unleashed

Special feature publication. Read it online now or order a free magazine.



Dr. Tak Mak clones the T-cell receptor.

Dr. Tak Mak


Dr. Tak Mak demonstrates that CTLA4 (protein receptor) is a key regulatory checkpoint in the immune system.

Dr. Tak Mak


Dr. Pamela Ohashi (above) and Dr. Linh Nguyen demonstrate that tumour-specific T-cells exist and are capable of mounting a response against tumours.

Dr. Pamela Ohashi


Dr. Pamela Ohashi, Dr. Linh Nguyen (above) and Patty Yen travel to Dr. Steven Rosenberg’s lab in the U.S. to learn techniques to grow tumour-specific T-cells.

Dr. Linh Nguyen


Dr. Pamela Ohashi, Dr. Brad Nelson, Dr. Réjean Lapointe and Dr. Jonathan Bramson found the Canadian Cancer Immunotherapy Consortium.


Immune Therapy Program is launched at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.


Rising stars Drs. Marcus Butler and Naoto Hirano are recruited from the U.S. for the immunotherapy program.


First adoptive T-cell therapy clinical trial opens in Canada at The Princess Margaret.


Clinical leadership is expanded with Dr. Lillian Siu joining the immunotherapy program.


Over 180 active immunotherapy clinical trials are underway at The Princess Margaret, including Canada’s first gene-engineered T-cell trial.

The Immune System

The Cancer Warrior: The Immune System

Download our immune system poster. Just how does your body protect itself from threats, such as cancer? By deploying key weapons in the immune system’s arsenal – like the T-cell.