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BioDrugs. 2009;23(1):1-13. doi: 10.2165/00063030-200923010-00001.

Recombinant immunotoxins containing truncated bacterial toxins for the treatment of hematologic malignancies.

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Clinical Immunotherapy Section, Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Immunotoxins are molecules that contain a protein toxin and a ligand that is either an antibody or a growth factor. The ligand binds to a target cell antigen, and the target cell internalizes the immunotoxin, allowing the toxin to migrate to the cytoplasm where it can kill the cell. In the case of recombinant immunotoxins, the ligand and toxin are encoded in DNA that is then expressed in bacteria, and the purified immunotoxin contains the ligand and toxin fused together. Among the most active recombinant immunotoxins clinically tested are those that are targeted to hematologic malignancies. One agent, containing human interleukin-2 and truncated diphtheria toxin (denileukin diftitox), has been approved for use in cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, and has shown activity in other hematologic malignancies, including leukemias and lymphomas. Diphtheria toxin has also been targeted by other ligands, including granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor and interleukin-3, to target myelogenous leukemia cells. Single-chain antibodies containing variable heavy and light antibody domains have been fused to truncated Pseudomonas exotoxin to target lymphomas and lymphocytic leukemias. Recombinant immunotoxins anti-Tac(Fv)-PE38 (LMB-2), targeting CD25, and RFB4(dsFv)-PE38 (BL22, CAT-3888), targeting CD22, have each been tested in patients. Major responses have been observed after failure of standard chemotherapy. The most successful application of recombinant immunotoxins today is in hairy cell leukemia, where BL22 has induced complete remissions in most patients who were previously treated with optimal chemotherapy.

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