Immune checkpoint blockade therapy for cancer: An overview of FDA-approved immune checkpoint inhibitors

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Although T lymphocytes have long been appreciated for their role in the immunosurveillance of cancer, it has been the realization that cancer cells may ultimately escape a response from tumor-reactive T cells that has ignited efforts to enhance the efficacy of anti-tumor immune responses. Recent advances in our understanding of T cell immunobiology have been particularly instrumental in informing therapeutic strategies to overcome mechanisms of tumor immune escape, and immune checkpoint blockade has emerged as one of the most promising therapeutic options for patients in the history of cancer treatment. Designed to interfere with inhibitory pathways that naturally constrain T cell reactivity, immune checkpoint blockade releases inherent limits on the activation and maintenance of T cell effector function. In the context of cancer, where negative T cell regulatory pathways are often overactive, immune checkpoint blockade has proven to be an effective strategy for enhancing the effector activity and clinical impact of anti-tumor T cells. Checkpoint inhibitors targeting CTLA-4, PD-1, and PD-L1 have yielded unprecedented and durable responses in a significant percentage of cancer patients in recent years, leading to U.S. FDA approval of six checkpoint inhibitors for numerous cancer indications since 2011. In this review, we highlight the clinical success of these FDA-approved immune checkpoint inhibitors and discuss current challenges and future strategies that must be considered going forward to maximize the efficacy of immune checkpoint blockade therapy for cancer.Graphical abstractHighlightsCTLA-4, PD-1, and PD-L1 are key negative regulators of anti-tumor T cell reactivity.Inhibitors of CTLA-4, PD-1, and PD-L1 can enhance anti-tumor T cell reactivity.Immune checkpoint blockade yields significant clinical benefit in cancer patients.

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