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Checkpoint inhibitors

Get the immune system back in control

Your immune system has built-in checkpoints that help it find invaders to attack, like bacteria or tumors. Cancer cells can trick these checkpoints by sending false signals. This disguises the tumors so that they appear harmless, which puts the brakes on T cells — your immune system’s anti-infection troops — and keeps them from attacking tumors.

At Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), researchers have found a way to put your immune system back in control. Antibodies are Y-shaped proteins that the immune system uses to identify and fight antigens (foreign objects like viruses and tumors). Immune checkpoint inhibitors are designed to release these brakes. They block cancer’s false signals, restarting the immune system’s engines so it can attack cancer.

Checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy has led to impressive immune responses, even with cancers that were difficult to treat until now, such as lung cancer and melanoma (skin cancer). This science fuels SCCA’s mission to provide our patients better, longer, richer lives.


I was losing hope, but taking part in an immunotherapy clinical trial changed everything for the better.

Watch His Story
David Dunnington Melanoma patient

Champions of checkpoint inhibitors

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance continues to be at the forefront of groundbreaking clinical trials for checkpoint inhibitors. That’s because our team has long held a strong belief that the immune system has the power to eradicate cancer cells completely.

Shailender Bhatia, MD Medical Oncologist

SCCA was one of the first institutions in the world to research checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy in patients. Dr. Shailender Bhatia and Dr. John Thompson were instrumental in the clinical trials of two checkpoint inhibitors, anti-PD-1 and anti-PD-L1, to treat melanoma. This research helped to develop two recent FDA-approved checkpoint inhibitor drugs — pembrolizumab (Keytruda®) and nivolumab (Opdivo®) — that are now used to treat melanoma, lung cancer, head and neck cancers and other cancers.

In fact, President Jimmy Carter received FDA-approved checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy for Stage IV metastatic melanoma that was based on clinical trials research at SCCA. The extraordinary science that helped cure him has provided real hope for patients worldwide.

With checkpoint inhibitors showing great promise for many different cancer types, SCCA continues to study what makes this therapy work best and when it is the right option for each patient. Our immunotherapy leaders have years of experience turning research into real-world therapies. Other cancer care centers just administer these drugs — SCCA’s science is the backbone behind them.

Moving fast towards better outcomes

I feel incredibly lucky to have been treated at an organization committed to moving the needle in research. Because of clinical trials at SCCA, we are getting to a point where they are yielding amazing results for patients like me.

David Dunnington Melanoma patient

Checkpoint inhibitor therapy is moving at a skyrocketing pace. A growing number of clinical trials and commercially available drugs are bringing this therapy to more patients and more cancer types. They can also be combined with other treatments, like adoptive T-cell therapy, to work even better together.

Immune checkpoint therapy is a type of antibody-based immunotherapy. You can find out about other antibody therapies at SCCA here.