Selective immune suppression using interleukin-6 receptor inhibitors for management of immune-related adverse events

Faisal Fa'ak, Maryam Buni, Adewunmi Falohun, Huifang Lu, Juhee Song, Daniel H. Johnson, Chrystia M. Zobniw, Van A. Trinh, Muhammad Osama Awiwi, Nourel Hoda Tahon, Khaled M. Elsayes, Kaysia Ludford, Emma J. Montazari, Julia Chernis, Maya Dimitrova, Sabina Sandigursky, Jeffrey A. Sparks, Osama Abu-Shawer, Osama Rahma, Uma ThanarajasingamAshley M. Zeman, Rafee Talukder, Namrata Singh, Sarah H. Chung, Petros Grivas, May Daher, Ala Abudayyeh, Iman Osman, Jeffrey Weber, Jean H. Tayar, Maria E. Suarez-Almazor, Noha Abdel-Wahab, Adi Diab

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background: Management of immune-related adverse events (irAEs) is important as they cause treatment interruption or discontinuation, more often seen with combination immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) therapy. Here, we retrospectively evaluated the safety and effectiveness of anti-interleukin-6 receptor (anti-IL-6R) as therapy for irAEs. Methods: We performed a retrospective multicenter study evaluating patients diagnosed with de novo irAEs or flare of pre-existing autoimmune disease following ICI and were treated with anti-IL-6R. Our objectives were to assess the improvement of irAEs as well as the overall tumor response rate (ORR) before and after anti-IL-6R treatment. Results: We identified a total of 92 patients who received therapeutic anti-IL-6R antibodies (tocilizumab or sarilumab). Median age was 61 years, 63% were men, 69% received anti-programmed cell death protein-1 (PD-1) antibodies alone, and 26% patients were treated with the combination of anti-cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen-4 and anti-PD-1 antibodies. Cancer types were primarily melanoma (46%), genitourinary cancer (35%), and lung cancer (8%). Indications for using anti-IL-6R antibodies included inflammatory arthritis (73%), hepatitis/cholangitis (7%), myositis/myocarditis/myasthenia gravis (5%), polymyalgia rheumatica (4%), and one patient each with autoimmune scleroderma, nephritis, colitis, pneumonitis and central nervous system vasculitis. Notably, 88% of patients had received corticosteroids, and 36% received other disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) as first-line therapies, but without adequate improvement. After initiation of anti-IL-6R (as first-line or post-corticosteroids and DMARDs), 73% of patients showed resolution or change to ≤grade 1 of irAEs after a median of 2.0 months from initiation of anti-IL-6R therapy. Six patients (7%) stopped anti-IL-6R due to adverse events. Of 70 evaluable patients by RECIST (Response Evaluation Criteria in Solid Tumors) V.1.1 criteria; the ORR was 66% prior versus 66% after anti-IL-6R (95% CI, 54% to 77%), with 8% higher complete response rate. Of 34 evaluable patients with melanoma, the ORR was 56% prior and increased to 68% after anti-IL-6R (p=0.04). Conclusion: Targeting IL-6R could be an effective approach to treat several irAE types without hindering antitumor immunity. This study supports ongoing clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of tocilizumab (anti-IL-6R antibody) in combination with ICIs (NCT04940299, NCT03999749).

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere006814
JournalJournal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 16 2023


  • autoimmunity
  • cytokines
  • immune checkpoint inhibitors


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