Immunotherapies for Cancer

OHSU provider analyzing blood samples as part of her patient's immunotherapy treatment

Immunotherapies boost the immune system's natural ability to fight tumors. The approach has advanced several new ways to treat cancer, all offered by experts at the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute. We now offer:

  • Kymriah, a new treatment for types of leukemia and lymphoma in children and adults.
  • Yescarta, a new therapy for some adult lymphomas.

How do immunotherapies help?

Compared with traditional chemotherapy, immune-based approaches may lead to longer-lasting responses. Immunotherapies have significantly increased survival times in people with aggressive cancers such as advanced melanoma and advanced lung cancer. Before, these cancers had limited treatment options.

New therapies for forms of leukemia and lymphoma, meanwhile, have helped patients for whom other treatments failed. Yescarta, for example, helped 51 percent of patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma achieve complete remission after other treatments failed, according to a study of 101 patients.

Knight Cancer Institute doctors and scientists are working to make immunotherapy treatments available to more patients and for more cancer types. 

Cancer types and immunotherapy

Leukemia and lymphoma: OHSU was the first hospital in the Northwest to offer Kymriah, which is used to fight certain types of blood cancer in children and adults. Kymriah was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2017 as the first therapy in which immune system T cells are genetically modified to kill cancer cells. 

  • Children and young adults: Kymriah is used to treat a form of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) called B-cell precursor ALL. It's approved for patients up to age 25 with this form of ALL that has resisted treatment or come back after treatment.
  • Adults: 
    • Kymriah: In 2018, the FDA approved Kymriah for adults with large B-cell lymphoma that has resisted treatment or come back after treatment. Approval includes treatment for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL), the most common non-Hodgkin lymphoma in the U.S.
    • Yescarta: OHSU offers Yescarta for types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in adults. Yescarta, approved by the FDA in 2017, also uses genetically modified T cells to kill cancer cells. It's approved for adults with large B-cell lymphoma that did not respond to at least two other treatments or that came back after treatment.
  • Prostate cancer: For patients with advanced prostate cancer, Knight Cancer Institute doctors are studying how to use immune therapy drugs, called checkpoint blockers, that have worked in melanoma and lung cancer.
  • Rare cancers: The first federally funded clinical trial of immunotherapy for rare cancers is being coordinated by the research network based at the Knight Cancer Institute. More than 30 rare cancers will be studied.
  • Others: Immunotherapies are also available for cancers including advanced melanoma and advanced lung cancer.

In the news

A new way to guide cancer immune therapy
Studying the immune cells entering a tumor may reveal the cancer's vulnerability or resistance to immune-based therapies.

Uncovering the ways cancer manipulates immune cells
Cancer cells have a remarkable ability to live longer by reshaping their surroundings. A Knight Cancer Institute scientist is leading an effort to discover new therapies that block interactions between tumors and infiltrating immune cells.

Learn more