Immunotherapies such as antibody 3F8 are designed to enable the body’s immune system to detect and destroy neuroblastoma cells that have survived chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

The 3F8 antibody used to treat neuroblastoma is carefully prepared for use in young patients and is now part of  standard treatment at Memorial Sloan Kettering for high-risk neuroblastoma. Each child must be evaluated to determine whether 3F8 treatment is appropriate and whether it should be used as part of a strategy that includes other therapies such as surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.

An outside company produces 3F8, and we do not charge our patients for the treatment.

We provide children with 3F8 treatment in rounds, or cycles, of one to two weeks of daily infusions (except weekends), with approximately three weeks off in between rounds. An outside company produces 3F8, and we do not charge our patients for the treatment. Funding from private foundations and philanthropies has been critical for paying for the production and clinical testing of 3F8.

Since 1987, our experts have safely delivered tens of thousands of infusions of 3F8 to hundreds of children. During this time, we’ve also continued to make improvements to the effectiveness of 3F8 in killing neuroblastoma.  A number of clinical trials at MSK also offer access to 3F8; whether your child is eligible for a particular clinical trial depends in part on when he or she is ready to begin treatment.

How Antibody 3F8 Works

We deliver 3F8 to the bloodstream by infusing it intravenously into a vein. The infusion typically takes about three hours, including the time it takes to give medications to prevent possible side effects and to monitor for any immediate side effects.

The drug travels through the bloodstream until it finds and attaches to GD2, a marker on the surface of neuroblastoma cells. The attachment of 3F8 to a cell signals the child’s immune system to treat the neuroblastoma cell as foreign and attack it. In other words, the 3F8 directs the child’s immune system, which normally acts only to control infections, to kill neuroblastoma cells.

Pediatric oncologist Nai-Kong CheungPediatric oncologist Nai-Kong Cheung strives to design therapies that offer hope for children with aggressive tumors. He heads MSK’s Neuroblastoma Program.

Because chemotherapy does not affect the part of the immune system that responds to 3F8 antibodies, the treatment is effective even when your child’s immune system has been weakened by chemotherapy. Over time, as the immune system becomes stronger, 3F8 treatments may help the body learn to fight tumors on its own.

At MSK, we routinely treat up to eight patients a day with 3F8 and have two nurses on staff dedicated to helping children manage pain and other side effects from immunotherapy for neuroblastoma. Issues can usually be taken care of in the outpatient clinic, but sometimes a child needs to be admitted to the hospital for an overnight stay.

Common Reactions to 3F8 include:

  1. Pain. 3F8 can attach to some nerve cells, causing pain that typically begins toward the middle or end of the daily treatment and lasts a short time, from a few minutes to up to an hour. Sometimes discomfort or minimal pain continues during the hours after the treatment. Morphine and Dilaudid can be effective in preventing or controlling pain, as can such approaches as dance movement therapy and guided imagery.
  2. Allergic reactions. The second most common side effect of 3F8 treatments is an allergic reaction in the form of a rash (hives with itching), which medicines such as Benadryl and Vistaril can help to control.

Other side effects are less common but include fever, vomiting, and diarrhea.