About the Immunotherapy Program

Immunotherapy refers to treatments that harness a patient’s own immune system to help fight diseases, including cancer. Some therapies boost the power of the body’s immune system so it works harder to fight off illness. Others involve introducing a man-made substance into the body that’s designed to target and kill cancer cells. There are also approaches that reprogram a patient’s own T-cells to recognize and attach to a protein that is found only on the surface of B cells.

Immunotherapy is widely recognized as a breakthrough in the treatment of cancer. While chemotherapy has been used successfully for decades to treat many cancer patients, there are some patients for whom chemotherapy does not cure their cancer. And for these patients, when cancer returns it can be very difficult to treat again. 

As recently as 10 years ago, doctors had few remaining options for treating these relapsed and treatment refractory patients. Today, Children's Hospital of Philadelphia doctors and researchers are leading advances in the development of effective immunotherapies for pediatric cancer and other disorders of the blood and immune system.

  • Our doctors have treated more than 400 children with advanced acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) using an immunotherapy known as chimeric antigen receptor (“CAR”) T-cell therapy and reported a complete remission rate of 90 percent (Maude et al. N Engl J Med. 2014, 371: 1507-17) on the pilot clinical trial that opened in 2012.
  • Members of the Cancer Immunotherapy Program also led the first national and international clinical trials of CAR T-cell therapy for children with B cell ALL.
  • That investigational therapy was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in treating pediatric relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in August 2017, an historic milestone in pediatric cancer treatment.
  • Children's Hospital has treated more children with CAR T cells targeting CD19 than any other pediatric institution.

Is cancer immunotherapy right for my child?

Currently, immunotherapy is not a first-line treatment for most forms of pediatric cancer. In the case of CAR T-cell therapy, it’s not a treatment for newly diagnosed cancer patients.

A team of experts at the Cancer Immunotherapy Program will be able to determine whether this form of treatment, or a clinical trial using immunotherapy, is right for your child depending on their diagnosis and the stage of their disease.

If immunotherapy is not an option, there may be other alternative therapies available for your child through the world-class team of oncology experts at Children's Hospital. The Cancer Center is a recognized leader in pediatric cancer treatment and research. Here, your child will be cared for by some of the top doctors in the world. The collaboration between oncologists and researchers allows us to fast forward advances in research and treatment to benefit our patients more quickly.

Next Steps
Existing Patients or Family Members
New Patients, Referrals and 2nd Opinions
Young boy cancer patient outside

Referring a Patient

Here’s what you can expect after contacting the Cancer Immunotherapy Program.

Torie CART

Cancer Immunotherapy Studies

The Cancer Immunotherapy Program has several clinical trials available to qualified patients.

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How Cancer Immunotherapy Works

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Here's what you can expect as a patient of our Cancer Immunotherapy Program.


CAR T-cell Therapy

In CAR T-cell therapy, immune cells called T cells are genetically modified to recognize cancerous B cells.