Adverse events to monoclonal antibodies used for cancer therapy: Focus on hypersensitivity responses

Oncoimmunology. 2013 Oct 1;2(10):e26333. doi: 10.4161/onci.26333. Epub 2013 Oct 17.


Fifteen monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) are currently registered and approved for the treatment of a range of different cancers. These mAbs are specific for a limited number of targets (9 in all). Four of these molecules are indeed directed against the B-lymphocyte antigen CD20; 3 against human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2 or ErbB2), 2 against the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), and 1 each against epithelial cell adhesion molecule (EpCAM), CD30, CD52, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), tumor necrosis factor (ligand) superfamily, member 11 (TNFSF11, best known as RANKL), and cytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated protein 4 (CTLA4). Collectively, the mAbs provoke a wide variety of systemic and cutaneous adverse events including the full range of true hypersensitivities: Type I immediate reactions (anaphylaxis, urticaria); Type II reactions (immune thrombocytopenia, neutopenia, hemolytic anemia); Type III responses (vasculitis, serum sickness; some pulmonary adverse events); and Type IV delayed mucocutaneous reactions as well as infusion reactions/cytokine release syndrome (IRs/CRS), tumor lysis syndrome (TLS), progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) and cardiac events. Although the term "hypersensitivity" is widely used, no common definition has been adopted within and between disciplines and the requirement of an immunological basis for a true hypersensitivity reaction is sometimes overlooked. Consequently, some drug-induced adverse events are sometimes incorrectly described as "hypersensitivities" while others that should be described are not.

Keywords: adverse effects; cancer; cardiac events; hemolytic anemia; hypersensitivity; infusion reactions; lung disease; mAbs; monoclonal antibodies; neutropenia; serum sickness; thrombocytopenia; vasculitis.

Publication types

  • Review