Monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are now established as targeted therapies for malignancies, transplant rejection, autoimmune and infectious diseases, as well as a range of new indications. However, administration of mAbs carries the risk of immune reactions such as acute anaphylaxis, serum sickness and the generation of antibodies. In addition, there are numerous adverse effects of mAbs that are related to their specific targets, including infections and cancer, autoimmune disease, and organ-specific adverse events such as cardiotoxicity. In March 2006, a life-threatening cytokine release syndrome occurred during a first-in-human study with TGN1412 (a CD28-specific superagonist mAb), resulting in a range of recommendations to improve the safety of initial human clinical studies with mAbs. Here, we review some of the adverse effects encountered with mAb therapies, and discuss advances in preclinical testing and antibody technology aimed at minimizing the risk of these events.