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PD-1 And PD-L1 Inhibitors: Enhancing Treatment Efficacy

Author : Priyanka | January 3, 2024

We've been noticing more cancer cases popping up on TV lately. However, people often wonder if there are any medications or drugs available that can effectively treat cancer. The answer lies in PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors, which are a groundbreaking class of drugs specifically designed to combat various types of cancer. It is worth noting that these innovative drugs have successfully obtained FDA approval for treating multiple types of cancer.

So, let's dive into the details of these inhibitors.

What are PD-1 and PD-L1 Inhibitors?

PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors are a class of drugs used in cancer immune system-based therapy. PD-1 is a protein found in immune cells called T cells, while PD-L1 is a protein found in some normal and cancer cells. The interaction between PD-1 and PD-L1 acts as a prohibitor, preventing T cells from attacking other cells in the body. However, some cancer cells have high levels of PD-L1, allowing them to evade the immune system.

PD-L1 and PD-1 inhibitors have had a significant effect on the field of cancer treatment, leading to their widespread use and popularity in the medical community. As per research conducted by Kings Research, the global PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors market is likely to be worth $167.97 billion by 2030. This valuation indicates a remarkable growth trend in this industry.

PD-1 Inhibitors vs. PD-L1 Inhibitors

Listed below are some of the key differences between PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors

  • PD-1 inhibitors

PD-1 inhibitors target the PD-1 protein, predominantly found in T cells within the immune system.

PD-1 inhibitors block the interaction between PD-1 on T cells and PD-L1 on cancer cells, preventing the off-switch signal and allowing T cells to attack cancer cells.

Some examples of PD-1 inhibitors include Nivolumab (Opdivo), Pembrolizumab (Keytruda), and Cemiplimab (Libtayo).

PD-1 inhibitors have been approved for the treatment of various types of cancers, including melanoma, non-small cell lung cancer, bladder cancer, and more.

  • PD-L1 inhibitors

PD-L1 inhibitors target the PD-L1 protein, which is found in cancer cells and antigen-presenting cells.

PD-L1 inhibitors directly block the binding of PD-L1 on cancer cells to its receptor, inhibiting the immune suppression signal.

Examples of PD-L1 inhibitors include Avelumab (Bavencio), atezolizumab (Tecentriq), and Durvalumab (Imfinzi).

PD-L1 inhibitors have also been approved for similar cancer indications, but they may have differences in their clinical efficacy and response rates for specific cancer types.

Types of Cancers That PD-1 and PD-L1 Inhibitors Combat

A study by the National Health Institute found that PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors have shown effectiveness in treating various types of cancer. Some of the cancer types for which these inhibitors have been approved include:

  • Breast cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Head and neck cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Skin cancer, including melanoma
  • Lung cancer
  • Renal cell cancer (a type of kidney cancer)
  • Liver cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Solid tumors that have DNA repair deficiencies

Different Types of PD-1 and PD-L1 Inhibitors

PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors list includes:

PD-1 Inhibitors

  • Nivolumab (Opdivo)
  • Pembrolizumab (Keytruda)
  • Cemiplimab (Libtayo)

PD-L1 Inhibitors

  • Atezolizumab (Tecentriq)
  • Avelumab (Bavencio)
  • Durvalumab (Imfinzi)

Benefits of PD-1 And PD-L1 Inhibitors

PD-L1 and PD-1 inhibitors offer several benefits in the treatment of cancer. Here are some key advantages:

  • Improved Clinical Outcomes: PD-L1 and PD-1 inhibitors have shown promising demonstrated clinical benefits, including improved response rates and survival outcomes in various types of cancer.
  • Enhanced Immune Response: By blocking the interaction between PD-L1 and PD-1, these inhibitors unleash the immune system's ability to recognize and attack cancer cells. This can lead to tumor regression and improved disease control.
  • Promising Safety Profile: PD-L1 and PD-1 inhibitors are generally better received by patients compared to traditional chemotherapy, offering a favorable balance between risks and benefits. They offer an alternative treatment option for patients who may not be able to tolerate or benefit from conventional therapies.
  • Potential for Personalized Treatment: Ongoing research aims to identify predictive biomarkers that can help determine which patients are most likely to respond to PD-L1 and PD-1 inhibitors. This personalized approach can optimize treatment outcomes and minimize unnecessary exposure to potential side effects.

Recent Research and Developments in PD-1 and PD-L1 Inhibitors Field

Below are recent research and developments in the field of PD-L1 and PD-1 inhibitors.

  • Biomarker Identification

Efforts are underway to identify predictive biomarkers that can help determine which patients are most likely to respond to PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors. Biomarkers such as PD-L1 expression, tumor mutational burden, and immune cell profiling are being studied to guide treatment decisions and improve patient outcomes.

A study by the National Institute of Health for PD-L1 as a biomarker of response to immune checkpoint inhibitors showed that immune checkpoint inhibitors targeting PD-1 or PD-L1 have improved cancer outcomes, but only 20–40% benefit from these therapies. PD-L1, quantified using immunohistochemistry assays, is the most widely used biomarker for selecting patients for anti-PD-1 or anti-PD-L1 antibodies.

  • Therapeutic Potential of PD-1/PD-L1 Inhibitors in Cancer

Immune checkpoint inhibitors, particularly PD-1/PD-L1 inhibitors, have revolutionized cancer therapy by leveraging the body's immune system to combat malignancies. These inhibitors are monoclonal antibodies that impede the interaction between PD-L1 and PD-1. They disrupt the immunosuppressive signal and improve the anti-tumor immune response. Clinical trials have shown efficacy in treating advanced or metastatic cancers, including leukemia, NSCLC, hepatocellular, melanoma, gastric, colorectal, and breast cancers. However, challenges persist in the form of resistance and immune-related adverse events, prompting researchers to conduct combination trials to enhance their therapeutic potential.

  • PD-L1 Expression in Gastric Cancer

Gastric cancer (GC) is the fifth most common cancer globally and the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths. Despite multidisciplinary therapies, the prognosis remains poor, especially in the advanced stages. Immunotherapeutic agents targeting immunosuppressive proteins, such as anti-programmed death protein-1/ligand 1 (PD-1/PD-L1) antibodies, have shown promising results in treating various types of cancer. PD-L1 protein expression correlates with the therapeutic effect of immune checkpoint inhibitors, and the combined positive score (CPS) is validated for GC patients treated with pembrolizumab. However, the rate of PD-L1 expression in Thai GC patients has not been evaluated, and researchers are still working on its prognostic significance.


PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors have transformed the landscape of cancer treatment. By blocking the interaction between PD-1 on T cells and PD-L1 on cancer cells, these inhibitors unleash the power of the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. Their clinical applications have shown remarkable success across various cancer types, offering new hope to patients.

Ongoing research and future developments aim to optimize their use, identify predictive biomarkers, and explore combination therapies. PD-1 and PD-L1 inhibitors represent a significant breakthrough in cancer immunotherapy, highlighting the potential for personalized and effective treatment options for patients in the fight against cancer.

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