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Cancer immunotherapy strategies based on overcoming barriers within the tumor microenvironment

Thomas F Gajewski, Seng-Ryong Woo, Yuanyuan Zha, Robbert Spaapen, Yan Zheng, Leticia Corrales, Stefani Spranger

Current Opinion in Immunology, Volume 25, Issue 2, April 2013, Pages 268–276

For tumor antigen-specific T cells to effectively control the growth of cancer cells in vivo, they must gain access to, and function within, the tumor microenvironment. While tumor antigen-based vaccines and T cell adoptive transfer strategies can result in clinical benefit in a subset of patients, most of the patients do not respond clinically. Even for tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL)-based adoptive transfer for patients with metastatic melanoma, which can provide tumor shrinkage in around 50% of treated individuals, many patients are not eligible, in part because there are not sufficient TIL present in the resected tumor. Thus, the denominator is in fact larger, and it has been suggested that absence of TIL may be a marker for poor efficacy of immunotherapies in general. While qualitative and/or quantitative features of the T cells are important considerations for efficacy, a major component of primary resistance likely can be attributed to the tumor microenvironment. Data are accumulating suggesting that two major categories of immune resistance within the tumor microenvironment may exist: failure of T cell trafficking due to low levels of inflammation and lack of chemokines for migration, and dominant suppression through immune inhibitory mechanisms. New therapeutic interventions are being guided by these observations, and preliminary clinical success is validating this working model.