Efficiency of recombinant human TNF in human cancer therapy

Ferdy J. Lejeune1,2,3, Danielle Liénard1,2, Maurice Matter3 and Curzio Rüegg1,4

1Multidisciplinary Oncology Centre (CePO), Lausanne, Switzerland

2Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research (LICR), Lausanne Branch, Lausanne, Switzerland

3Department of Visceral Surgery, Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (CHUV), Lausanne, Switzerland

4National Centre for Competence in Research (NCCR) Molecular Oncology, Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC), Epalinges, Switzerland

Keywords: human, neoplasms, TNF, melphalan, isolated limb perfusion, survival rate


Recombinant human tumour necrosis factor (TNF) has a selective effect on angiogenic vessels in tumours. Given that it induces vasoplegia, its clinical use has been limited to administration through isolated limb perfusion (ILP) for regionally advanced melanomas and soft tissue sarcomas of the limbs. When combined with the alkylating agent melphalan, a single ILP produces a very high objective response rate. In melanoma, the complete response (CR) rate is around 80% and the overall objective response rate greater than 90%. In soft tissue sarcomas that are inextirpable, ILP is a neoadjuvant treatment resulting in limb salvage in 80% of the cases. The CR rate averages 20% and the objective response rate is around 80%. The mode of action of TNF-based ILP involves two distinct and successive effects on the tumour-associated vasculature: first, an increase in endothelium permeability leading to improved chemotherapy penetration within the tumour tissue, and second, a selective killing of angiogenic endothelial cells resulting in tumour vessel destruction. The mechanism whereby these events occur involves rapid (of the order of minutes) perturbation of cell-cell adhesive junctions and inhibition of αvβ3 integrin signalling in tumour-associated vessels, followed by massive death of endothelial cells and tumour vascular collapse 24 hours later. New, promising approaches for the systemic use of TNF in cancer therapy include TNF targeting by means of single chain antibodies or endothelial cell ligands, or combined administration with drugs perturbing integrin-dependent signalling and sensitizing angiogenic endothelial cells to TNF-induced death.