Video: Inspiring Stories from Moores
Cancer Center

Several patients share their stories, including Ralph Whitworth, who worked with Drs. Scott Lippman and Ezra Cohen to accelerate immunotherapy studies.

Support Our Immunotherapy Work

For information on how to support cancer immunotherapy, please contact Sandy Liarakos at or 858-246-1569.

Your support will allow us to complete our new cell processing lab more quickly and dramatically accelerate our immunotherapy trials and research, delivering this transformative therapy and its life-saving results to our patients who need help now.

Meet Our Specialists

UC San Diego physicians currently working in immunotherapy include:

We are one of only a few cancer centers in the country with the capability to explore all facets of immunotherapy, the use of drugs that stimulate the immune system to fight cancer. Our team—led by world renowned physician-scientist Ezra Cohen, MD—has activated several clinical trials to explore novel immune checkpoint inhibitors and tumor vaccines.

In the next year, we will dramatically expand the program to test immunotherapy in cancers that are particularly resistant to traditional treatments, including:

For more information on our extensive early-phase trials in immunotherapy, see Experimental Therapeutics Program

We are also building a cell processing lab that will allow patients to receive immune cellular therapy, including an exciting new genetic engineering technology called adaptive T-cell transfer.

What Is Immunotherapy?

Immunotherapy is treatment that augments, retrains, or retargets the immune system to fight cancer. Your immune system consists of white blood cells, also called leukocytes, which help protect your body against infections and diseases. The goal of immunotherapy is to train these cells to attack cancer without harming healthy tissue.

The idea of immunotherapy has been around for a long time, but new developments promise to revolutionize the way we treat cancer.

Types of Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy can include therapeutic antibodies, vaccines, small-molecule drugs, cytokines, or cellular therapy. They all help your immune system fight cancer by stopping or slowing cancer cell growth, destroying cancer cells, and keeping cancer from metastasizing, or spreading, to other parts of your body.

There are several general types of immunotherapy that are used alone or in combination:

  • Cancer vaccines help the body to recognize cancer cells and then stimulate the immune system to attack the tumor. Some cancer vaccines are injections. Others require us to collect blood, enrich it with cells, and then re-infuse it with an intravenous infusion. 
  • Cytokines such as interferons and interleukins are groups of proteins that are produced by white blood cells and help to stimulate the immune system’s reaction to cancer. Interleukins are proteins that increase growth and activity in the body's immune cells.  Interleukin-2 (IL-2) is an FDA-approved anti-cancer treatment.
  • Colony stimulating factors (CSF) work in the bone marrow, where red and white blood cells and platelets are produced, to create more immune system and blood cells.
  • Monoclonal antibodies are made when two different types of cells are fused together. They are designed to attack antigens, which are responsible for identifying foreign cells, such as cancer cells, and initiating an immune response.
  • Immune checkpoint inhibitors (CTLA-4, PD-1, PD-L1, etc.) are antibodies that "release the brake" from immune cells, allowing them to recognize a tumor and unleash white blood cells to attack it.
  • Cellular therapy (CAR T-cells, recombinant TCRs) involves methods to retarget your immune cells to specific proteins on a particular cancer.