Interleukin-6 blockade for prophylaxis and management of immune-related adverse events in cancer immunotherapy.

Dimitriou F, Hogan S, Menzies AM, Dummer R, Long GV. Eur J Cancer. (Epub 15 Sept 2021)


Background: Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) have activity across many tumor types, but activation of the immune system may also lead to significant, often steroid-refractory immune-related adverse events (irAEs). We sought to determine the activity of tocilizumab, an anti-interleukin-6 receptor monoclonal antibody, in treatment or prevention of auto-immune irAE in ICI-treated patients.

Methods: Institutional databases from 2 melanoma centers were reviewed for patients treated with ICIs and tocilizumab. Longitudinal assessment of C-reactive protein (CRP) and assessment of clinical improvement or prevention of flare of pre-existing auto-immune conditions were utilised to evaluate the benefit of tocilizumab.

Results: Twenty-two patients were identified. Two were treated prophylactically. Twenty were treated for management of irAEs. Median time to irAE onset from ICI start was 48 days (range 8-786) and from irAE onset to tocilizumab 32 days (range 1-192). Median time to irAE resolution from tocilizumab was 6.5 days (range 1-93). Clinical improvement/benefit was demonstrated in 21/22 patients. Median CRP prior to ICI administration was 32 mg/l (range 0.3-99), at the onset of irAE 49.5 mg/L (range 0.3-251, P = 0.047) and after tocilizumab 18 mg/L (range 0.3-18, P = 0.0011). Tocilizumab was well tolerated with self-limiting and transient toxicities in 11 (50%) patients. From start of ICI, median progression-free survival was 6 months (range 3.9-18.8) and median overall survival was not reached.

Conclusions: Tocilizumab was a well-tolerated and effective steroid-sparing treatment for both management of irAEs, as well as prevention of flare of pre-existing auto-immune disorders. Prospective trials to evaluate its efficacy and impact on cancer outcomes compared with standard strategies are required.