A member of a family of viruses that can cause infections in the respiratory tract, eye, and gastrointestinal tract. Modified forms of adenoviruses that do not cause disease are currently used in cancer gene therapy and immunotherapy. Antigens or therapeutic genes can be incorporated into the viral genome that may fix defects in cells or kill cancer cells.


A protein produced by blood cells that is used by the immune system to identify and neutralize pathogens, such as bacteria and viruses. The antibody recognizes a specific part of the pathogen, called an antigen. Interaction between the antibody and its target leads to the clearance of the pathogen from the body either by completing the antigen itself or by recruiting cell components involved in the killing of multiple targets – viruses, bacteria, parasites or cancer cells.


Any substance that induces an immune response against that substance. Antigens, recognized by the immune system, can originate from within the body (“self” or auto-immune) or from the external environment (“non-self”), and the latter include toxins, chemicals, bacteria, viruses or other substances that come from outside the body. The immune system is normally non-reactive against “self” antigens; nevertheless, several clinical disorders are linked to the recognition of “self” components (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, Type I diabetes, multiple sclerosis).


A biological molecule used as a diagnostic tool to describe a biological state of a subject or predict the evolution of a disease. A biomarker can be used to fine tune a treatment for a specific pathology in a patient-dependent context (personalized medicine).

Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN)

Cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN) is mainly caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). CIN is a precancerous lesion but may become cancerous and spread to nearby normal tissue. CINs are classified from grade 1 to grade 3, based on how abnormal the cells look under a microscope and how much of the cervical tissue is affected. For example, CIN 1/2 has slightly abnormal cells and is less likely to become cancerous than CIN 3.


Cytokines encompass a large category of small proteins that are important in cell signaling. They are made by certain immune and non-immune cells and have an effect on the immune system. Some cytokines stimulate the immune system while others slow it down.


Pertaining to the destruction of cells.

Epithelial cells

Epithelial cells are components on the internal and external surfaces of the body. Moreover, they exhibit glandular activities in specific organs, such as the prostate, thyroid, mammary glands and salivary glands.


The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to progeny. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.


Granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor (GM-CSF) is a cytokine that functions as a white blood cell growth factor, especially granulocytes, macrophages and cells that become platelets.


Histology refers to the examination of tissues or cells under a light or electron microscope. This method is widely used in cancer diagnosis.

Interleukin-2 (IL-2)

Cytokine that stimulates the growth of certain immune system cells implicated in the body’s defense and that can fight cancer.


A type of immune cell that originates from the bone marrow and is found in the blood and in lymph tissue. The two main types of lymphocytes are B cells and T cells. B cells make antibodies, and T cells help to kill tumor cells and control immune responses. A lymphocyte is a type of white blood cell.


The spread of cancer cells from one part of the body to another.


Chronic, equally spaced administration of low doses of chemotherapeutic drugs without extended rest periods; for example, chemotherapy, often given with other types of therapy. This approach can impact the tumor environment in several ways, including the destruction of both tumor blood vessels and immune-suppressor cells.

Monoclonal antibodies

Monoclonal antibodies are monospecific antibodies produced by a unique parent cell. Monoclonal antibodies are used to treat some types of cancer, as well as other diseases. They can be used alone or to carry drugs, toxins or radioactive substances directly to cancer cells. Monoclonal antibodies can be used to mimic immune signals to activate or block cell functions.


Protein found on certain epithelial cells, which line the inside and outside surfaces of the body. It may be found in higher than normal amounts in patients with some types of cancer, including breast, ovarian, lung and prostate cancers, or in other conditions.

MVA (Modified Vaccinia Ankara) virus

Highly attenuated (weakened) strain of vaccinia virus that was developed towards the end of the campaign to eradicate smallpox. MVA is a vector for the production of recombinant proteins, the most common being a vaccine delivery system for the expression of antigens. The MVA virus is widely considered as the vaccinia virus strain of choice for clinical investigation because of its excellent safety profile.


Having to do with or resembling the bone marrow. May also refer to certain types of hematopoietic (blood-forming) cells found in the bone marrow.

Objective tumor response

Measurable response (improvement related to treatment). Clinical imaging is one of the main tools for the short-term evaluation of the efficacy of a therapeutic treatment.

Oncolytic virus

A virus that preferentially infects and kills cancer cells. As the infected cancer cells are destroyed by lysis, they release new infectious virus particles to help destroy the neighboring tumor cells. Oncolytic viruses are thought not only to cause direct destruction of tumor cells, but also to stimulate patient anti-tumor immune responses.

Orphan drug designation

Special status that can be given by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or European Medicines Agency to a drug or biological product to treat a rare disease or condition which is life-threatening or chronically debilitating.

Phase 1 clinical trial

First step in testing a drug in human subjects, either in healthy volunteers or in various disease indications. A Phase 1 trial is a small-scale study to test a new drug or treatment in a small group of people for the first time to evaluate its safety and tolerability.

Phase 2 clinical trial

Phase 2 trials typically involve a larger group of patients than Phase 1 trials and are designed to test the safety, dose response and efficacy of a new drug in patients.

Phase 3 clinical trial

Phase 3 trials typically involve hundreds or thousands of subjects, depending on the disease, and are designed to test a drug’s safety and efficacy in a controlled setting.


The poxviruses are a large DNA virus family. Among them, the most famous are the vaccinia viruses that allowed the eradication of smallpox in the late 1970s and still today the only example of removing a pandemic worldwide. With this vaccine effectiveness this family is now used to treat other infectious diseases (HIV, tuberculosis, RSV, Ebola ) and cancer (therapeutic vaccine, oncolytic agent).


Molecule composed of amino acids. Proteins are essential to the structure, function and regulation of the body.


A detailed plan of a scientific or medical experiment, treatment or procedure. In clinical trials, it states what the study will do, how it will be done and why it is being done.


In a clinical study, participants are assigned by chance to separate groups that compare different treatments; neither the researchers nor the participants can choose which group.


A molecule commonly embedded within the cell surface membrane that receives molecular signals from other cells.


New combination of genetic material; for example, when segments of DNA from different sources are joined to produce recombinant DNA.


A disease or condition that does not respond to treatment.

Solid tumor

An abnormal mass of tissue that usually does not contain cysts or liquid areas. Solid tumors may be benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).


The extent or severity of a cancer in the body. Staging is usually based on the size of the tumor, whether cancer cells have spread to nearby (local) lymph nodes, and whether the cancer has spread from the original site to other parts of the body. Staging ranges from 0 to IV, with IV being the most advanced.

T cells or T lymphocytes

Type of white blood cell. T cells are part of the immune system and develop from stem cells in the bone marrow. They help protect the body from infection and may help fight cancer.

Targeted therapy

Type of treatment that uses drugs or other substances to identify and attack specific types of cancer cells with less harm to normal cells.

Tyrosine kinase inhibitors

A substance that blocks the action of enzymes called tyrosine kinases. Tyrosine kinases are a part of many cell functions, including cell signaling, growth and division. These enzymes may be too active or found at high levels in some types of cancer cells, and blocking them may help keep cancer cells from growing. Some tyrosine kinase inhibitors are used to treat cancer. They are a type of targeted therapy.


Entity of blood vessels in the body or within an organ.

Viral vaccine vector

Attenuated or weakened version of a virus that mimics a natural infection. The vector injects its genetic material into cell components of the body. This allows the synthesis of pathogen-associated antigens (i.e., tumor antigen), leading to the stimulation of the immune system, tricking it into producing an immune reaction against the antigen.


Glossary of terms includes definitions adapted from the National Cancer Institute Dictionary of Cancer Terms at