EpCAM: A new therapeutic target for an old cancer antigen.
The use of monoclonal antibodies as adjuvants to cancer chemotherapy has drawn considerable interest in recent years, due to the success of several novel agents against a broad range of targets. One such target is EpCAM (aka GA733-2, KSA, 17-1A antigen), a human cell surface glycoprotein expressed on some normal and most neoplastic epithelial cells. It is now widely recognized as having an important role in tumor biology, especially in colorectal cancer, and since its original discovery in the early 1980s, the known mechanism by which it functions has steadily evolved. Initial studies of monoclonal antibodies directed against EpCAM demonstrated the presence of anti-idiotype networks involving both B and T cells, antibody-dependent cell cytotoxicity, and complement mediated cell death as mechanisms of tumor growth inhibition. Recently, a novel receptor for EpCAM has been described that is a member of the inhibitory group of immunoglobulin-like receptors and is present on lymphocytes, monocytes, dendritic cells, and NK cells. Neoplastic cells that interact with this receptor, named LAIR-1, may enact an immunologic escape, and thus confer a selective advantage for their growth and spread. This novel mechanism of action may add to our current understanding of how monoclonal antibodies targeted against EpCAM inhibit tumor growth. Passive vaccination with this antibody may induce a tertiary anti-idiotypic network which correlates with clinical outcome, but the mechanism behind this outcome in select patients with minimal residual disease may additionally involve a novel blockade of tumor specific immunosuppression. This review will focus on the initial discoveries of EpCAM's cellular adhesion properties, its role in normal and neoplastic cell function, its distribution and presumed mechanism of action, and clinical studies of EpCAM as a therapeutic target. Clinical trials of edrecolomab, one such monoclonal antibody, in patients with colon cancer will be reviewed and updated. While phase III trials of edrecolomab have not demonstrated improved efficacy as adjuvant therapy for stage III colon cancer, newer agents with improved affinity, less chimerism, and improved delivery may still demonstrate benefit.
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