INTRODUCTION The success of the immune checkpoint inhibitors in melanoma has reinvigorated the field of immunotherapy. Immune checkpoint inhibitors are now the standard of care in multiple cancer types including lung cancer, head and neck cancer, urothelial cancer and renal cell cancer. The field of immunotherapy is currently expanding rapidly and will be a focus of research and development for decades to come. Areas covered: This review covers the early development of immune checkpoint inhibitors and the changes that occurred in the drug development paradigm to facilitate the development of immunotherapy. The review will summarise the areas into which immune checkpoint inhibitors have been adopted and will review the data that supported this. Furthermore, we will discuss future developments in immunotherapy and the current landscape regarding maximising the potential of immunotherapy in clinical practice. Expert commentary: In the author's opinion, the potential of immunotherapy is vast. To date immune checkpoint inhibition has already delivered durable responses in a proportion of patients with cancer types which were previously universally lethal. The future of immunotherapy will rely upon the intelligent application of translational research to clinical practice, such that immunotherapy can be effective for a wider population and maintain its current growth.