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Rapid Drug Desensitization for Hypersensitivity Reactions to Chemotherapy and Monoclonal Antibodies in the 21st Century


MC Castells Guitart

Allergy and Clinical Immunology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA

J Investig Allergol Clin Immunol 2014; Vol. 24(2): 72-79



The frequency of hypersensitivity reactions (HSR) to drugs has risen in the last 10 years owing to increased exposure to better and more allergenic medications including monoclonal antibodies. HSRs prevent patients from using their first-line therapy, leading to decreased quality of life and life expectancy. Although premedication with antihistamines, leukotriene blockers, and corticosteroids can protect against mild-to-moderate HSR, none of these medications has provided protection against anaphylaxis. Rapid drug desensitization is a treatment option for patients with HSR to their first-line medication that protects against anaphylaxis. Although the mechanisms of drug desensitization are not completely understood, in vitro mast cell models of IgE antigen desensitization have led to the design of safe and effective in vivo protocols aimed at protecting highly sensitized patients from hypersensitivity reactions and anaphylaxis. This review provides an insight into the mechanisms of IgE/mast cell desensitization, the principles and practice of drug desensitization, and an overview of the different desensitization protocols and their safety and efficacy profiles. Drug desensitization should only be performed by allergists, trained nurses, and experienced pharmacists, since this high-risk procedure involves reintroducing allergenic medication to highly sensitized patients, with the consequent potential for severe or fatal HSRs.

Key words: Desensitization. Drug hypersensitivity. IgE-mediated. Chemotherapy. Monoclonal antibodies.