Alpha-Gal-containing biologics and anaphylaxis

Allergol Int. 2019 Jul;68(3):296-300. doi: 10.1016/j.alit.2019.04.001. Epub 2019 Apr 30.


Cetuximab, the IgG1 subclass chimeric mouse-human monoclonal antibody biologic that targets the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR), is used worldwide for the treatment of EGFR-positive unresectable progressive/recurrent colorectal cancer and head and neck cancer. Research has shown that the principal cause of cetuximab-induced anaphylaxis is anti-oligosaccharide IgE antibodies specific for galactose-α-1,3-galactose (α-Gal) oligosaccharide present on the mouse-derived Fab portion of the cetuximab heavy chain. Furthermore, it has been revealed that patients who are allergic to cetuximab also develop an allergic reaction to mammalian meat containing the same α-Gal oligosaccharide owing to cross-reactivity, and the presumed cause of sensitization is tick bites: Amblyomma in the United States, Ixodes in Australia and Europe, and Haemaphysalis in Japan. The α-Gal-specific IgE test (bovine thyroglobulin-conjugated ImmunoCAP) or CD63-expression-based basophil activation test may be useful to identify patients with IgE to α-Gal in order to predict risk for cetuximab-induced anaphylactic shock. Investigations of cetuximab-related anaphylaxis have revealed three novel findings that improve our understanding of immediate-type allergy: 1) oligosaccharide can serve as the main IgE epitope of anaphylaxis; 2) because of the oligosaccharide epitope, a wide range of cross-reactivity with mammalian meats containing α-Gal similar to cetuximab occurs; and 3) tick bites are a crucial factor of sensitization to the oligosaccharide. Nonetheless, taking a medical history of tick bites and beef allergy may be insufficient to prevent cetuximab-induced anaphylaxis, and therefore blood testing with an α-Gal-specific IgE test, with high sensitivity and specificity, is necessary to detect sensitization to α-Gal.

Keywords: Anaphylaxis; Cetuximab; Galactose-α-1, 3-galactose; Red meat allergy; Tick bites.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anaphylaxis / chemically induced*
  • Anaphylaxis / diagnosis*
  • Anaphylaxis / epidemiology
  • Anaphylaxis / immunology
  • Animals
  • Biological Products / adverse effects*
  • Biological Products / immunology
  • Cetuximab / adverse effects
  • Cetuximab / immunology
  • Cross Reactions
  • Food Hypersensitivity / epidemiology
  • Food Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Tests
  • Japan / epidemiology
  • Oligosaccharides / adverse effects*
  • Oligosaccharides / immunology
  • Tick Bites / epidemiology
  • Tick Bites / immunology


  • Biological Products
  • Oligosaccharides
  • Cetuximab

Supplementary concepts

  • red meat allergy