Interleukin-13 receptor-directed cytotoxin for malignant glioma therapy: from bench to bedside

J Neurooncol. 2003 Oct;65(1):37-48. doi: 10.1023/a:1026242432647.


Central nervous system malignant neoplasias, in particular, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM) have defied all current therapeutic modalities. New therapies involving tumor targeting approach are being explored. This approach relies on the identification of unique or over-expressed cell surface receptors or antigens on tumor cells. In that regard, we have identified receptor for an immune regulatory cytokine, interleukin-13 (IL-13), which is over-expressed on human malignant glioma cell lines and primary tumor cell cultures. To target IL-13 receptors (IL-13R) for cancer therapy, we have developed a recombinant fusion protein composed of IL-13 and a mutated form of Pseudomonas exotoxin (IL13-PE38QQR or IL-13 cytotoxin). The IL-13 cytotoxin was found to be highly selective and potent in killing human GBM cells in vitro while normal cells including immune cells, endothelial cells and normal brain cells were generally spared the cytotoxic effect of IL-13 cytotoxin. This is because these cells either expressed none or expressed low levels of IL-13R. Consistent with in vitro cytotoxic activity, IL-13 cytotoxin mediated remarkable anti-tumor activity to human glioma in animal xenograft models. The direct injection of IL-13 cytotoxin into subcutaneous human GBM tumors grown in nude mice produced complete and durable regression of established tumors. Intravenous and intraperitoneal administration of IL-13 cytotoxin also reduced tumor burden significantly with fewer complete responders. All animals tolerated therapy well with minimal toxicity to vital organs. Pre-clinical safety and toxicity studies were performed in mice, rats and monkeys. Systemic administration of IL-13 cytotoxin appeared to be well tolerated at high doses (up to 50 microg/kg). Intrabrain parenchyma administration of IL-13 cytotoxin at doses up to 100 microg/ml was very well tolerated without any evidence of gross or microscopic necrosis, whereas at 500 microg/ml dose, localized necrosis was observed in normal rat brain. Based on these encouraging pre-clinical studies, three Phase I/II clinical trials in adults with malignant glioma have been initiated. The first clinical trial involves convection-enhanced delivery (CED) of IL-13 cytotoxin into recurrent malignant glioma. This route of IL-13 cytotoxin administration appears to be fairly well tolerated with no neurotoxicity. The second clinical trial involves infusion of IL-13 cytotoxin by CED following tumor resection. The initial stage of the second study assessed histologic effect of drug administered prior to resection. In third one, IL-13 cytotoxin is infused by CED followed by tumor resection. All three clinical trials are currently ongoing.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Brain Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Drug Evaluation, Preclinical
  • Exotoxins / administration & dosage
  • Exotoxins / pharmacology*
  • Glioma / drug therapy*
  • Glioma / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-13 / administration & dosage
  • Interleukin-13 / pharmacology*
  • Interleukin-13 Receptor alpha1 Subunit
  • Pseudomonas / chemistry
  • Receptors, Interleukin / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Receptors, Interleukin / metabolism
  • Receptors, Interleukin-13
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / administration & dosage
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins / pharmacology*


  • Exotoxins
  • IL13RA1 protein, human
  • Il13ra1 protein, rat
  • Interleukin-13
  • Interleukin-13 Receptor alpha1 Subunit
  • Receptors, Interleukin
  • Receptors, Interleukin-13
  • Recombinant Fusion Proteins