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Immune system responses are under the control of extracellular biomolecules, which express functions in receptors present on the surface of cells of the immune system, and thus are amenable to be functionally modulated by monoclonal antibodies. Some of these mechanisms are activating and dictate whether the response ensues, while others play the role of powerful repressors. Antagonist antibodies acting on such repressors result in enhanced immune responses, a goal that is also achieved with agonist antibodies acting on the activating receptors. With these simple logics, a series of therapeutic agents are under clinical development and one of them directed at the CTL-associated antigen 4 (CTLA-4) inhibitory receptor (ipilimumab) has been approved for the treatment of metastatic melanoma. The list of antagonist agents acting on repressors under development includes anti-CTLA-4, anti-PD-1, anti-PD-L1 (B7-H1), anti-KIR, and anti-TGF-β. Agonist antibodies currently being investigated in clinical trials target CD40, CD137 (4-1BB), CD134 (OX40), and glucocorticoid-induced TNF receptor (GITR). A blossoming preclinical pipeline suggests that other active targets will also be tested in patients in the near future. All of these antibodies are being developed as conventional monoclonal immunoglobulins, but other engineered antibody formats or RNA aptamers are under preclinical scrutiny. The "dark side" of these immune interventions is that they elicit autoimmune/inflammatory reactions that can be severe in some patients. A critical and, largely, pending subject is to identify reliable predictive biomarkers both for efficacy and immune toxicity. Preclinical and early clinical studies indicate a tremendous potential to further improve efficacy, using combinations from among these new agents that frequently act in a synergistic fashion. Combinations with other more conventional means of treatment such as radiotherapy, chemotherapy, or cancer vaccines also hold much promise.

Original publication




Journal article


Clinical cancer research : an official journal of the American Association for Cancer Research

Publication Date





997 - 1008


Department of Oncology, Centro de Investigación Médica Aplicada, Clinica Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona, Spain.


T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic, Animals, Humans, Neoplasms, Cancer Vaccines, Antibodies, Monoclonal, Immunization, Drug Design