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Expert Opin Biol Ther. 2008 Sep;8(9):1295-307. doi: 10.1517/14712598.8.9.1295 .

Interleukin-21: biology and application to cancer therapy.

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  • 1University of California, Center for Health Sciences, Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Medicine, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1678, USA.



IL-21, a recently described common gamma-chain cytokine, can induce the maturation and enhanced cytotoxicity of natural killer (NK) and CD8(+) T cells and proliferation of CD40-stimulated B cells. Exogenous IL-21 has antitumor effects in murine models via immunological mechanisms. In addition, IL-21 can also directly induce apoptosis in chronic lymphocytic leukemia cells and other B cell lymphomas.


We examine preclinical and clinical data regarding anticancer therapy with IL-21. Published original research, abstracts and ongoing clinical trials are reviewed. A brief summary of IL-21 biology is also provided.


Three Phase I and II clinical trials with recombinant IL-21 have been completed, providing data on the safety and efficacy in subjects with advanced melanoma, renal cell carcinoma and non-Hodgkin's B cell lymphoma. Numerous additional single-agent and combination therapy clinical trials are ongoing for a variety of human malignancies. B cell malignancies in particular warrant further clinical investigation.

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