Clinical activity of antiCTLA-4 (cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4) monoclonal antibodies (mAb) has changed the approaches for the treatment of cancer in terms of patterns of response, duration of response, and adverse event profiles. In fact, antibodies that block the interaction of CTLA-4 with its ligands B7.1 and B7.2 can enhance immune responses, including anti-tumor immunity. Two recent studies using ipilimumab (an anti-CTLA-4 mAb) demonstrated improvements in overall survival in the treatment of advanced melanoma. These studies utilized two different schedules of treatment in different patient categories (first and second line of treatment). However, the results were quite similar despite the different dosage used and the combination with dacarbazine in the first line treatment. Ongoing clinical studies will establish the efficacy of ipilimumab as monotherapy or in combination with other drugs for the treatment of metastatic melanoma and a variety of other cancers. Other antibodies, such as CD137 agonists and PD-1 antagonists, are currently in various stages of pre-clinical and clinical development. Agonist antibodies directed against CD137 (41BB) on the surface of antigen-primed T-lymphocytes increase tumor immunity that is curative against some transplantable murine tumors. Programmed death-1 (PD1) is a surface molecule delivering inhibitory signals important to maintain T-cell functional silence against their cognate antigens. Interference with PD1 or its ligand PD-L1 (B7H1) increases anti-tumor immunity. As a result, human mAbs anti-PD1 and anti-PD-L1 are under clinical development. This paper reviews recent studies in the treatment of advanced melanoma with these types of monoclonal antibodies. Ipilimumab can be considered a cornerstone of a new era in melanoma treatment. However, the aim is to optimize the therapy with anti-CTLA-4 antibodies to define the best schedule for next combination regimens (other immunomodulatory antibodies, BRAF/MEK inhibitors, vaccines, etc.) that represent the natural evolution of future melanoma therapy.
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