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Corticosteroid refractory graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is one of the major challenges in the management of allogeneic stem cell transplant recipients. Although numerous agents have been employed to treat this patient population, no standardized second-line therapy exists. In this study, we report our experience with the administration of tocilizumab, an anti-interleukin 6 receptor antibody, in the treatment of steroid refractory GVHD. Tocilizumab was administered to 8 patients with refractory acute (n = 6) or chronic GVHD (cGVHD) (n = 2) once every 3 to 4 weeks. The majority of patients with acute GVHD (aGVHD) had grade IV organ involvement of the skin or gastrointestinal tract, whereas both patients with cGVHD had long-standing severe skin sclerosis at the time of treatment. There were no allergic or infusion-related adverse events. Treatment was discontinued in one patient over concerns that tocilizumab may have worsened preexisting hyperbilirubinemia. Several patients also had transient elevations in serum transaminase values. Infections were the primary adverse events associated with tocilizumab administration. Four patients (67%) with aGVHD had either partial or complete responses apparent within the first 56 days of therapy. One patient with cGVHD had a significant response to therapy, whereas the second had stabilization of disease that allowed for a modest reduction in immune suppressive medications. These results indicate that tocilizumab has activity in the treatment of steroid refractory GVHD and warrants further investigation as a therapeutic option for this disorder.
Intravenously administered glucocorticoids , such as prednisone , are the standard of care in acute GvHD  and chronic GVHD.  The use of these glucocorticoids is designed to suppress the T-cell-mediated immune onslaught on the host tissues; however, in high doses, this immune-suppression raises the risk of infections and cancer relapse. Therefore, it is desirable to taper off the post-transplant high-level steroid doses to lower levels, at which point the appearance of mild GVHD may be welcome, especially in HLA mis-matched patients, as it is typically associated with a graft-versus-tumor effect. [ citation needed ] . Cyclosporine and tacrolimus are inhibitors of calcineurin. Both substances are structurally different but have the same mechanism of action. Cyclosporin binds to the cytosolic protein Peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomerase A (known as cyclophilin), while tacrolimus binds to the cytosolic protein Peptidyl-prolyl cis-trans isomerase FKBP12. These complexes inhibit calcineurin, block dephosphorylation of the transcription factor NFAT of activated T-cells and its translocation into the nucleus  . Standard prophylaxis involves the use of cyclosporine for six months with methotrexate. Cyclosporin levels should be maintained above 200 ng/ml  . Other substances that have been studied for GvHD prophylaxis include, for example: sirolism, pentostatin and alemtuzamab  .