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Experimental exposure of healthy volunteers to the T-cell dependent neoantigen keyhole limpet hemocyanin (KLH) permits the evaluation of immunomodulatory investigational medicinal product (IMP) pharmacology prior to the recruitment of patient populations. Despite widespread use, no standardized approach to the design and conduct of such studies has been agreed. The objective of this systematic review was to survey the published literature where KLH was used as a challenge agent, describing methodology, therapeutic targets addressed, and pharmacodynamic outcome measures. We searched MEDLINE, EMBASE,, and Cochrane CENTRAL for studies using KLH challenge in humans between January 1, 1994, and April 1, 2022. We described key study features, including KLH formulation, dose, use of adjuvants, route of administration, co-administered IMPs, and end points. Of 2421 titles and abstracts screened, 46 met the inclusion criteria, including 14 (31%) early phase trials of IMP, of which 10 (71%) targeted T-cell co-stimulation. IMPs with diverse mechanisms demonstrated modulation of the humoral response to KLH, suggesting limited specificity of this end point. Two early phase IMP studies (14%) described the response to intradermal re-challenge (delayed type hypersensitivity). Challenge regimens for IMP assessment were often incompletely described, and exhibited marked heterogeneity, including primary KLH dose (25-fold variation: 100-2500 mcg), KLH formulation, and co-administration with adjuvants. Methodological heterogeneity and failure to exploit the access to tissue-level mechanism-relevant end points afforded by KLH challenge has impaired the translational utility of this paradigm to date. Future standardization, characterization, and methodological development is required to permit tailored, appropriately powered, mechanism-dependent study design to optimize drug development decisions.

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Journal article


Clin transl sci

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