At the crossroads: COVID-19 and immune-checkpoint blockade for cancer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The immunomodulatory effects of immune-checkpoint blockade (ICB) therapy for cancer may act at the crossroads between the need to increase antiviral immune responses to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and to decrease the inflammatory responses in severe cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). There is evidence from preclinical models that blocking programmed death receptor 1 (PD1) protects against RNA virus infections, which suggests that patients with cancer receiving ICB may have lower rates of viral infection. However, given the heterogeneity of patient characteristics, this would be difficult to demonstrate using population-based registries or in clinical trials. Most studies of the impact of ICB therapy on the course of COVID-19 have centered on studying its potential detrimental impact on the course of the COVID-19 infection, in particular on the development of the most severe inflammatory complications. This is a logical concern as it is becoming clear that complications of COVID-19 such as severe respiratory distress syndrome are related to interferon signaling, which is the pathway that leads to expression of the PD1 ligand PD-L1. Therefore, PD1/ PD-L1 ICB could potentially increase inflammatory processes, worsening the disease course for patients. However, review of the current evidence does not support the notion that ICB therapy worsens complications from COVID-19, and we conclude that it supports the continued use of ICB therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic provided that we now collect data on the effects of such therapy on COVID-19 vaccination.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)261-264
Number of pages4
JournalCancer immunology research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Cancer Research


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