Intracellular targets as source for cleaner targets for the treatment of solid tumors

Biochem Pharmacol. 2019 Oct;168:275-284. doi: 10.1016/j.bcp.2019.07.015. Epub 2019 Jul 16.


High-potency oncology compounds such as antibody- drug conjugates, T cell redirecting, and CAR-T cell therapies have provided transformational responses in patients with liquid tumors. However, they delivered only limited benefit to solid tumor patients due to the frequent onset of dose limiting toxicities in normal tissues. Such on-target, off-tumor toxicities are caused by recognition of targets present at low-levels on normal tissues. The apparent imbalance between the rapid development of high-potency therapeutic modalities and the slow progress in identification of cleaner targets is illustrated by the fact that most high-potency compounds currently developed in the clinic target cell surface antigens identified over 20 years ago. Therefore, identification of novel, truly tumor-specific targets is critical for the future success of high-potency oncology compounds in solid tumors. One of the most promising approaches to overcome the limitations of targeting cell surface antigens are intracellular targets. The renewed interest in this class of targets is due to the success of immune checkpoint inhibitors, which mediate their anti-tumor responses by activation of cytotoxic T cells recognizing peptide fragments of intracellular targets presented by human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) on the surface of tumor cells. Importantly, many intracellular targets belong to the class of tumor specific antigens (TSAs), which lack presentation on normal tissues. In this report we review the main classes of tumor specific antigens, including viral, neoantigens and shared self-antigens as well as tumor associated antigens (TAAs) and their relevance for therapeutic targeting of solid tumors by high-potency therapeutic modalities.

Keywords: ADCs; Antigens; Autologous T cell therapies; CAR-T; TCR-T cells.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / drug effects
  • Antigens, Neoplasm / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism
  • Drug Delivery Systems / methods*
  • Drug Delivery Systems / trends
  • Humans
  • Intracellular Fluid / drug effects*
  • Intracellular Fluid / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antigens, Neoplasm
  • Antineoplastic Agents