Immune checkpoint blockade in cancer treatment: A double-edged sword cross-targeting the host as an "innocent bystander"

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Targeted immune checkpoint blockade augments anti-tumor immunity and induces durable responses in patients with melanoma and other solid tumors. It also induces specific "immune-related adverse events" (irAEs). IrAEs mainly include gastrointestinal, dermatological, hepatic and endocrinological toxicities. Off-target effects that arise appear to account for much of the toxicity of the immune checkpoint blockade. These unique "innocent bystander" effects are likely a direct result of breaking immune tolerance upon immune check point blockade and require specific treatment guidelines that include symptomatic therapies or systemic corticosteroids. What do we need going forward to limit immune checkpoint blockade-induced toxicity? Most importantly, we need a better understanding of the roles played by these agents in normal tissues, so that we can begin to predict potentially problematic side effects on the basis of their selectivity profile. Second, we need to focus on the predictive factors of the response and toxicity of the host rather than serially focusing on individual agents. Third, rigorous biomarker-driven clinical trials are needed to further elucidate the mechanisms of both the benefit and toxicity. We will summarize the double-edged sword effect of immunotherapeutics in cancer treatment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)914-933
Number of pages20
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2014


  • Checkpoint-blocking antibodies
  • Immune response
  • Immune therapies
  • Ipilimumab
  • Toxicity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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