Systemic use of tumor necrosis factor alpha as an anticancer agent

Nicholas J. Roberts, Shibin Zhou, Luis A. Diaz and Matthias Holdhoff _

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Oncotarget. 2011; 2:739-751. https://doi.org/10.18632/oncotarget.344

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Nicholas J. Roberts1, Shibin Zhou1, Luis A. Diaz Jr.1 and Matthias Holdhoff1

1Ludwig Center for Cancer Genetics and Therapeutics, The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 21231, USA

Received: October 17, 2011; Accepted: October 26, 2011; Published: October 27, 2011;

Keywords: cancer, chemotherapy, TNF, drug combinations, oncotarget


Matthias Holdhoff, email:


Tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) has been discussed as a potential anticancer agent for many years, however initial enthusiasm about its clinical use as a systemic agent was curbed due to significant toxicities and lack of efficacy.  Combination of TNF-α with chemotherapy in the setting of hyperthermic isolated limb perfusion (ILP), has provided new insights into a potential therapeutic role of this agent.  The therapeutic benefit from TNF-α in ILP is thought to be not only due to its direct anti-proliferative effect, but also due to its ability to increase penetration of the chemotherapeutic agents into the tumor tissue.  New concepts for the use of TNF-α as a facilitator rather than as a direct actor are currently being explored with the goal to exploit the ability of this agent to increase drug delivery and to simultaneously reduce systemic toxicity.

This review article provides a comprehensive overview on the published previous experience with systemic TNF-α.  Data from 18 phase I and 10 phase II single agent as well as 18 combination therapy studies illustrate previously used treatment and dose schedules, response data as well as the most prominently observed adverse effects.  Also discussed, based on recent preclinical data, is a potential future role of systemic TNF-α in combination with liposomal chemotherapy to facilitate increased drug uptake into tumors.

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