Monoclonal antibodies (mAb) are a major component of cancer therapy. In this review, we summarize the different therapeutic mAbs that have been successfully developed against various tumor-expressed antigens and examine our current understanding of their different mechanisms of antitumor action. These mechanisms of action (MOA) largely center on the stimulation of different innate immune effector processes, which appear to be principally responsible for the efficacy of most unconjugated mAb therapies against cancer. This is evident in studies of mAbs targeting antigens for hematologic cancers, with emerging data also demonstrating the critical nature of innate immune-mediated mechanisms in the efficacy of anti-HER2 mAbs against solid HER2+ cancers. Although HER2-targeted mAbs were originally described as inhibitors of HER2-mediated signaling, multiple studies have since demonstrated these mAbs function largely through their engagement with Fc receptors to activate innate immune effector functions as well as complement activity. Next-generation mAbs are capitalizing on these MOAs through improvements to enhance Fc-activity, although regulation of these mechanisms may vary in different tumor microenvironments. In addition, novel antibody-drug conjugates have emerged as an important means to activate different MOAs. Although many unknowns remain, an improved understanding of these immunologic MOAs will be essential for the future of mAb therapy and cancer immunotherapy.

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