Immunotherapy - Penn State Cancer Institute

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Immunotherapy Overview

The mission of the Immunotherapy group at Penn Cancer Institute is to harness the power of the body’s immune system and novel immunotherapy treatments to treat or prevent cancer.

The human immune system has only recently begun to reveal many of its long-hidden secrets that can be exploited to turn this defense against outside pathogens into an increasingly effective tool in the fight against cancer. Immune therapies have already demonstrated their ability to actually cure some patients with widely disseminated cancers.

As a joint collaboration of physicians and scientists, the program utilizes all forms of immunotherapy: vaccines, cellular therapies, and agents, such as checkpoint inhibitors, to modify the immune response. Researchers also consider a combination of these approaches with other therapies, including radiation and chemotherapy.

By using the appropriate immune therapies in the appropriate sequence and combinations, we can expand and disinhibit the components of the human immune system, potentially leading to the cure of many different types of cancer.

Our Current Research

Immunotherapy team members are actively involved in basic, translational and clinical research in immunotherapeutics. Focus areas of research include:


The program has had some encouraging results in its melanoma work, which showed that combining immunotherapy with checkpoint inhibitors and radiation is synergistic, leading to better responses and improved overall survival in patients. We have developed clinical trials based on this concept in bladder cancer and malignant melanoma. Our team demonstrated that repurposing an old drug, the beta blocker propranolol, can also improve responses and survival in patients and in a melanoma animal model. A prospective clinical trial has been developed with the Roswell Park Center for Immunotherapy, and a clinical trial is in the planning stage.

CAR-T Therapies

CAR-T (Chimeric Antigen Receptor-T cell) Therapy is a new form of immunotherapy/gene therapy, where T-cells are re-directed to attack tumor cells. This therapy was shown to be very effective even in chemotherapy refractory diseases, and considered to be a “game changer” in treatment scheme of relapsed/refractory Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL) and Diffuse Large B-cell Lymphoma (DLBCL).

FDA-Approved CAR-T Therapy for DLBCL is now available at Penn State Cancer Institute, first in central Pennsylvania. We are now accepting referrals for adult DLBCL.

For CAR-T Therapy referrals, call 800-531-CART (2278).

Research and Clinical Services

The Immunotherapy Program offers many clinical treatments to patients both on and off clinical trials, including intensive cytokine treatments such as high-dose IL-2, which relatively few medical centers have the expertise or infrastructure to deliver. We are also an approved sipileucel-T medical center. This agent is the first FDA-approved active cancer vaccine in humans and is targeted for men with early castrate-resistant prostate cancer.

Penn State Cancer Institute also has a robust bone marrow and stem cell transplantation program for both adults and children and performs donor lymphocyte infusion therapy, a form of adoptive cell therapy in which donor lymphocytes are infused into bone marrow transplant patients who have had relapsed.

Our Stem Cell Laboratory supports research studies of adoptive cell therapy for various tumor types. We also can perform haplo-identical allotransplants in which the donor is only half matched. This expands the pool of potential donors for patients significantly.

The Stem Cell Laboratory has supported research studies of adoptive cell therapy for various tumor types and can assist this modality for future studies. We are preparing to perform CAR-T cell therapy with newly approved agents in this arena for refractory B-cell malignancies and are developing our own cellular therapies to treat other refractory malignancies.

Contact Us

For details on research in the Immunotherapy group, contact Todd Schell, PhD, research director, at or 717-531-8169.