At the time of surgery, occult metastases (micrometastases) are present in more than 50% of colorectal cancer patients, and the liver is the most frequent site of apparent metastatic disease. Frequently, adjuvant chemotherapy is unable to prevent tumor recurrence. Thus, novel therapeutic strategies are warranted. The aim of this study was to establish a model of human colon cancer metastatic to the liver of nude mice, to assess, in this setting, the therapeutic efficacy of radioimmunotherapy (RAIT) compared to standard chemotherapy and to evaluate, in a Phase I/II trial, the toxicity and therapeutic efficacy of RAIT in colorectal cancer patients with small volume disease metastatic to the liver.

Multiple liver metastases of the human colon cancer cell line GW-39 were induced by intrasplenic injection of a 10% tumor cell suspension. Whereas controls were left untreated, therapy was initiated on day 10 or 20 after tumor inoculation with the 131I-labeled, low affinity anticarcinoembryonic antigen (anti-CEA) monoclonal antibody (MAb), F023C5 (Ka = 107 liters/mol), or the high-affinity anti-CEA MAb, MN-14 (Ka = 109 liters/mol), or chemotherapy (5-fluorouracil/leucovorin (folinic acid) versus irinotecan) at their respective maximum tolerated doses (MTDs). Twelve colorectal cancer patients with small volume disease metastatic to the liver (all lesions ≤2.5 cm) were entered into a mCi/m2-based Phase I dose escalation study with 131I-labeled humanized version of MN-14, hMN-14. The patients were given single injections, starting at 50 mCi/m2 and escalating in 10-mCi/m2 increments. The MTD was defined as the dose level at which ≤1 of 6 patients develop grade 4 myelotoxicity.

In the mice, untreated controls died from rapidly progressing hepatic metastases at 6–8 weeks after tumor inoculation. The life span of mice treated with 5-fluorouracil/leucovorin was prolonged for only 1–3 weeks, whereas irinotecan led to a 5–8-week prolongation. In contrast, at their respective MTDs, the 131I-labeled low-affinity anti-CEA MAb, F023C5, led to a 20% permanent cure rate, and the high affinity MAb, MN-14, led to an 80% permanent cure rate, when therapy was initiated at 10 days after tumor inoculation. In the 20-day-old tumor stage, although it prolonged life, 131I-F023C5 was unable to achieve cures, whereas 131I-MN-14 was still successful in 20%. Histologically, no remaining viable tumor cells could be demonstrated in these animals surviving >6 months.

In patients, the MTD was reached at 60 mCi/m2 of hMN-14 (at 70 mCi/m2, two of three grade 4 myelotoxicities). Of 11 assessable patients, 2 had partial remissions (corresponding to an objective response rate of 18%), and 5 (45%) had minor/mixed responses or experienced stabilization of previously rapidly progressing disease.

These data suggest that in small volume disease, RAIT may be superior to conventional chemotherapy. Antibodies of higher affinity seem to be clearly superior. The clinical response rates in patients with small volume disease are encouraging, being comparable to the response rates of conventional chemotherapeutic regimens but with fewer side effects. Ongoing studies will show whether treatment at the MTD will further improve therapeutic results.


Presented at the “Seventh Conference on Radioimmunodetection and Radioimmunotherapy of Cancer,” October 15–17, 1998, Princeton, NJ. Supported by Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Grant DFG Be 1689/4-1 (to T. M. B.) and by Outstanding Investigator Grant CA39841 (to D. M. G.) and Program Project Grant CA 54425 (to David V. Gold) from the National Cancer Institute, NIH.

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