Perspective of Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors in Thymic Carcinoma

Cancers (Basel). 2021 Mar 3;13(5):1065. doi: 10.3390/cancers13051065.


Thymic carcinoma is a rare neoplasm with a dismal prognosis, and there are no established therapeutic regimens for metastatic or recurrent disease. Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs), such as PD-1/PD-L1 antibodies, are widely approved in several human cancers, contributing to prolonging survival in thoracic tumors. Thymic carcinoma exhibits histologic properties of squamous cell carcinoma (SQC), and resembles the SQC of the lung. ICIs are not approved in thymic carcinoma. Thus, several clinical trials have been undertaken to demonstrate if they are therapeutically effective for patients with thymic carcinoma. In our review, three prospective phase II studies and several case series were discussed in thymic carcinoma. We found that the objective response rate, disease control rate, and progression-free survival in PD-1 blockade monotherapy were approximately 20%, 73%, and four months, respectively. Two exploratory investigations indicated that PD-L1 within tumor cells exhibits a possibility of the therapeutic prediction of PD-1 blockade in thymic carcinoma. Several case reports, alongside their treatment content, have also been reviewed. The therapeutic efficacy of PD-1 blockade monotherapy is still limited in patients with thymic carcinoma. Future perspectives focus on the therapeutic implication of tyrokinase inhibitors plus ICIs or new experimental agents plus ICIs alongside several ongoing experimental studies.

Keywords: PD-1 blockade; immune checkpoint inhibitor; immunotherapy; nivolumab; pembrolizumab; thymic carcinoma.

Publication types

  • Review