The treatment of bladder cancer has evolved over time to encompass not only the traditional modalities of chemotherapy and surgery, but has been particularly impacted by the use of immunotherapy. The first immunotherapy was the live, attenuated bacterial Bacillus Calmette-Guérin vaccine, which has been the standard of care non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer since 1990. Modern immunotherapy has focused on inhibitors of checkpoint proteins, which are molecules that impede immune function, thereby allowing tumor cells to grow and proliferate unregulated. Several checkpoint targets (programmed death ligand-1 [PD-L1] programmed cell death protien-1 [PD-1], and cytotoxic T-lymphocyte associated protein 4 [CTLA4]) have received the most attention in the treatment of bladder cancer, and have inhibitor agents either approved or in late-stage development. This review describes the most recent data on agents that inhibit PD-L1, found on the surface of tumor cells, and PD-1 found on activated T and B cells and macrophages. Atezolizumab is the only member of this class currently approved for the treatment of bladder cancer, but nivolumab, pembrolizumab, durvalumab, and avelumab all have positive results for this indication, and approvals are anticipated in the near future. The checkpoint inhibitors offer an effective alternative for patients for whom previously there were few options for durable responses, including those who are ineligible for cisplatin-based regimens or who are at risk of significant toxicity. Research is ongoing to further categorize responses, define ideal patient populations, and investigate combinations of checkpoint inhibitors to address multiple pathways in immune system functioning.
Keywords: BCG; Bladder cancer; Immunotherapy; PD-1 inhibitor; PD-L1 inhibitor.
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