Next steps in immuno-oncology: enhancing antitumor effects through appropriate patient selection and rationally designed combination strategies.
Background: Cancers escape immune surveillance via distinct mechanisms that involve central (negative selection within the thymus) or peripheral (lack of costimulation, receipt of death/anergic signals by tumor, immunoregulatory cell populations) immune tolerance. During the 1990s, moderate clinical benefit was seen using several cytokine therapies for a limited number of cancers. Over the past 20 years, extensive research has been performed to understand the role of various components of peripheral immune tolerance, with the co-inhibitory immune checkpoint molecules cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen 4 (CTLA-4), programmed death 1 (PD-1), and its ligand (PD-L1) being the most well-characterized at preclinical and clinical levels. Patients and methods: We used PubMed and Google Scholar searches to identify key articles published reporting preclinical and clinical studies investigating CTLA-4 and PD-1/PD-L1, frequently cited review articles, and clinical studies of CTLA-4 and PD-1/PD-L1 pathway inhibitors, including combination therapy strategies. We also searched recent oncology congress presentations and clinicaltrials.gov to cover the most up-to-date clinical trial data and ongoing clinical trials of immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) combinations. Results: Inhibiting CTLA-4 and PD-1 using monoclonal antibody therapies administered as single agents has been associated with clinical benefit in distinct patient subgroups across several malignancies. Concurrent blockade of CTLA-4 and components of the PD-1/PD-L1 system using various schedules has shown synergy and even higher incidence of durable antitumor responses at the expense of increased rates of immune-mediated adverse events, which can be life-threatening, but are rarely fatal and are reversible in most cases using established treatment guidelines. Conclusions: Dual immune checkpoint blockade has demonstrated promising clinical benefit in numerous solid tumor types. This example of concurrent modulation of multiple components of the immune system is currently being investigated in other cancers using various immunomodulatory strategies.
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