Immunotherapy in 2019: What’s Next for this Cancer Treatment?

2018 saw tremendous improvements in immunotherapy methods that led to positive results for cancer patients all around the United States. 2019 promises even more advancements, and new strategies aim to increase these effective responses.

immunotherapyThe key to garnering even better immunotherapy results in 2019 will be using combination therapies. Two methods in particular will be front and center: a combination of different checkpoint inhibitors and a combination of checkpoint inhibitors alongside conventional methods like chemotherapy and radiation. The powerful groundwork that immunotherapy has laid in the past few years will only become stronger with the addition of combination therapies.

The field of immunotherapy has only recently become recognized by mainstream medicine, signified especially by the 2018 Nobel Prize in Medicine awarded to Drs. James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo, leaders in the field of immunology. “The field of immunotherapy is exploding,” says Allison. “For the first time, we have several potentially curative treatments for cancer, with some patients remaining cancer-free a decade or more after treatment.”immunotherapy

But in order for immunotherapy to be effective in more patients, these combination therapies need to be very carefully developed. According to Allison, analyzing tissue samples from cancer patients will allow clinicians to choose drugs that will work the best for particular patients.

Combating Treatment Resistance

While immunotherapy has been very successful for many types of cancers, those only make up about one third of all cancers. It’s also possible that patients who once respond well to immunotherapy end up later developing resistance to it. This year will thus be focused on figuring out how to combat resistance as well.

immunotherapyFor patients who have “innate resistance,” combination treatments that pair checkpoint inhibitors with chemotherapy, radiation, or targeted therapy could help to conquer it. Other patients develop resistance because of “acquired defects,” which ultimately don’t allow them to respond to lytic events. Allison says that agents targeting CD-4, especially vaccines, could help to combat resistance in this case.

Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR) T-Cell Therapies

Researchers are also working on fine-tuning chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapies in order to create better treatments in 2019. Scientists are currently coming up with ways to get rid of genes that block T-cells. The focus on using CAR T-cell therapy for solid tumors will also increase in 2019, but the primary focus will be on hematologic malignancies.

Precision Medicine

According to Elaine Mardis, PhD, president of the American Association for Cancer Research, genomics-based studies of tumors will allow for advancements in precision medicine this year. Researchers will work to understand the indications of germline defects like BRCA alternations.

AI & Other Advancements


This year is more promising than ever for cancer research, as labs will utilize the latest technology to learn more about the fatal disease. More studies will be done on treatments guided by liquid biopsies. Artificial intelligence (AI) will also likely be utilized in cancer studies to help understand it more as a system.

Fortunately, studies focused on the “hardest targets” will become first priority as researchers work to figure out how to tackle the cancers that are the most difficult to treat. Glioblastoma multiforme and pancreatic cancer are two examples.


Brian Rivers, PhD, says that the year will show more emphasis on “implementation science” for cancer prevention as well as health disparities. These studies will look at the various methods of health practitioners to ensure that evidence-based interventions are occurring in all medical settings. Implementation science will also help clinicians to understand why there are many health disparities in the U.S., such as low cancer screenings in minority communities and populations who are severely underrepresented.