Immunotoxins are a class of targeted cancer therapeutics in which a toxin such as Pseudomonas
exotoxin A (PE) is linked to an antibody or cytokine to direct the toxin to a target on cancer cells. While a variety of PE-based immunotoxins have been developed and a few have demonstrated promising clinical and preclinical results, cancer cells frequently have or develop resistance to these immunotoxins. This review presents our current understanding of the mechanism of action of PE-based immunotoxins and discusses cellular mechanisms of resistance that interfere with various steps of the pathway. These steps include binding of the immunotoxin to the target antigen, internalization, intracellular processing and trafficking to reach the cytosol, inhibition of protein synthesis through ADP-ribosylation of elongation factor 2 (EF2), and induction of apoptosis. Combination therapies that increase immunotoxin action and overcome specific mechanisms of resistance are also reviewed.
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