Published: 08-03-2023 13:37 | Updated: 08-03-2023 14:28

Life-threatening side effects of novel cancer immunotherapies could be treatable

The authors: Marcus Skribek, Ulrika Harmenberg, Lisa Liu and Marco Gerling
The authors: Marcus Skribek, Ulrika Harmenberg, Lisa Liu and Marco Gerling. Photo: Marco Gerling

Immunotherapy has been shown to greatly improve survival rates for certain types of cancer. However, in some cases, it can lead to an over-activation of the immune system, which can be dangerous. In a recent review by researchers at Karolinska Institutet, potential therapies have been identified, which might make it possible to continue with immunotherapy even when facing severe side effects.

For certain types of cancer, immunotherapy has greatly improved survival rates. However, in some patients, it can lead to a dangerous over-activation of the immune system. This rare side effect was only clinically recognized during regular clinical use rather than in clinical trials or animal experiments.

To better understand this over-activation, Lisa Liu, Marco Gerling, and colleagues analyzed data from all published international reports on this issue after cancer immunotherapy. Their findings indicate that potentially life-threatening inflammation may occur more frequently than previously thought, and might be treatable with existing drugs such as steroids or anti-inflammatory therapies commonly used for rheumatoid arthritis.

“It will be exciting to follow up on the main findings of our systematic review, says Marco Gerling at the Department of Biosciences and Nutrition, Karolinska Institutet and lead author.

"We believe that inhibition of a specific inflammatory molecule, interleukin-6, could allow patients to continue immunotherapy despite strong, systemic activation of the immune system", he continues. "But we need more data to support the regular use of interleukin-6 inhibitors. We also want to thank Narcisa Hannerz and Sabine Gillsund from Karolinska University Library for their invaluable help with finding articles for this review.“