Immunotoxins: a clinical review of their use in the treatment of malignancies

A. A. Hertler, A. E. Frankel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

95 Scopus citations


Immunotoxins are a new class of antitumor agents consisting of tumor-selective ligands (generally monoclonal antibodies [MoAbs]) linked to highly toxic protein molecules that have been modified to remove their normal tissue-binding domains. These immunoconjugates combine the potency of the parent toxin with the specificity of the attached ligand. Toxins used in the construction of immunotoxins belong to a group of peptides that catalytically inhibit the elongation step of protein synthesis, and include ricin, abrin, pokeweed antiviral protein, gelonin, Pseudomonas exotoxin A, diphtheria toxin, and α-sarcin. To synthesize immunotoxins, the normal cell-binding function must be removed by chemical cleavage or modification, or in the case of toxins that have been cloned, genetic engineering used to delete amino acids critical to cell binding. Covalent linkage of toxin to ligand generally involves a disulfide or thioether bond, though recently, recombinant toxin molecules with ligands that are genetically engineered into the protein have been made. The most successful clinical application of immunotoxins has been in the depletion of T cells from allogeneic bone marrow grafts to prevent graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). Clinical trials have been conducted using immunotoxins for the systemic treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL), GVHD, and selected solid tumors. With the possible exception of GVHD, responses have been limited. Obstacles have included rapid systemic clearance, poor delivery to extravascular tumor deposits, and humoral immune responses to the immunotoxin. Research to overcome these problems is in progress and should lead to a better definition of the role of immunotoxins in the therapy of malignancies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1932-1942
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Clinical Oncology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Jan 1 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Cancer Research


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