Ipilimumab (Yervoy, developed by Medarex and Bristol-Myers Squibb) is a fully human monoclonal IgG1κ antibody against the cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 (CTLA-4), an immune-inhibitory molecule expressed in activated T cells and in suppressor T regulatory cells. Interaction of the monoclonal antibody with CTLA-4 blocks inhibitory signals generated through this receptor and enhances T cell activation, leading to increased antitumor responses. Ipilimumab has been approved by FDA in March 2011 as monotherapy (3mg/kg every 3 weeks for 4 doses) for the treatment of advanced (unresectable or metastatic) melanoma both in pre-treated or chemotherapy naïve patients. Four months later, ipilimumab has received a rapid approval by the European Commission, after a positive opinion from the Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use. However, the indication in the EU is limited to previously-treated patients with advanced melanoma. Ipilimumab is the first agent that has demonstrated to improve overall survival in patients with metastatic melanoma, which has a very poor prognosis, in randomized phase III clinical trials. The patterns of tumour response to ipilimumab differ from those observed with cytotoxic chemotherapeutic agents, since patients may have a delayed yet durable response and obtain long-term survival benefit despite an initial tumour growth. The major draw-back of ipilimumab is the induction of immune-related adverse effects; the latter can be life-threatening, unless promptly managed with immunosuppressive agents (most frequently corticosteroids) according to specific guidelines. Further development of ipilimumab includes its use in the neoadjuvant or adjuvant high-risk melanoma setting and for the treatment of other refractory and advanced solid tumours, either as single agent or in combination with additional immunostimulating agents or molecularly targeted therapies.
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