Immune checkpoint inhibitors in small cell lung cancer
Small cell lung cancer (SCLC) is a rapidly progressive cancer that often debilitates patients within months of detection and quickly becomes refractory to the limited options of therapy. While SCLC is not generally considered an immunogenic tumor, clinical experience suggests that patients with robust immune response manifesting as paraneoplastic syndrome are more likely to present with limited stage of the disease and tend to have a better prognosis. Monoclonal antibodies targeting critical negative regulators of immune response, so called immune checkpoints, such as cytotoxic T-lymphocyte-associated protein 4 (CTLA-4) and programmed death 1 (PD-1) have expanded the application of immune-based therapies to increasing number of advanced stage cancers. These agents overcome the inhibitory immune signals leading to a heightened immune response against cancer cells. These immune checkpoint inhibitors have established ef cacy leading to regulatory approval for their use in many cancer types including non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC). Evaluation of the CTLA-4 inhibitor, ipilimumab and PD-1 inhibitors, nivolumab and pembrolizumab in SCLC have shown encouraging signal but de nitive studies are still ongoing. In this review, we discuss the rationale behind the use of checkpoint inhibitors in SCLC, contextualize the results of early trials of immunotherapy agents in SCLC and project the future evolution of this strategy.