Farnesyl transferase inhibitors: A major breakthrough in anticancer therapy? Naples, 12 April 2002

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An International meeting focused on farnesyl transferase inhibitors (FTIs) was held in Naples on 12 April 2002 and represented an excellent occasion to gather most of the clinicians who are involved in clinical trials with this class of new compounds. Oncogene mutations of the ras gene occur in approximately 30% of all human cancers and may have prognostic significance. Ras protein is normally synthesized as pro-Ras, which undergoes a number of post-translational modifications, among which farnesylation. Processed Ras proteins localize to the inner surface of the plasma membrane, and function as a molecular switch that cycles between an inactive and an active form. When in its active form, either because of the binding of an external ligand or because of its constitutive activation, Ras activates several downstream effectors, such as Raf-1, Rac, Rho and phospahtidylinositol-3 kinase, which mediate important cellular functions, such as proliferation, cytoskeletal organization and others. Interruption of the Ras signaling pathway can be basically achieved in three ways, i.e. inhibition of Ras protein expression through antisense oligonucleotides, prevention of Ras membrane localization and inhibition of Ras downstream effectors. SCH 66336 (Ionafarnib; Sarasar), a tricyclic orally active FTI, has been the first of these compounds to undergo clinical development. The toxicity profile observed in all completed phase I/II trials has been fairly similar, since gastrointestinal tract toxicity (nausea, vomiting and diarrhea) and fatigue have generally qualified as dose-limiting toxicity (DLT). One objective response in a patient with pretreated non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) was observed. Based on preclinical evidence of synergism between Ionafarnib and other anticancer agents, combination studies have been started. In particular, Ionalarnib has been combined both with gemcitabine and with paclitaxel in phase I studies. Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and myelosuppression represented DLTs in these studies, in which an encouraging clinical activity was observed, in particular in pancreatic carcinoma (Ionafarnib plus gemcitabine) and in NSCLC (Ionafarnib plus paclitaxel). R115777 (Zarnestra) is another novel orally active FT competitive inhibitor in clinical development. Single-agent phase I/II studies have shown that myelotoxicity and neurotoxicity are DLTs, intermittent schedule is probably better tolerated and antitumor activity is observed particularly in breast cancer. A number of combination studies with R115777 have been carried out; taken as a whole, they show that the drug can be easily combined with several anticancer agents and phase III trials exploring the potential benefit from incorporation of R115777 into active chemotherapy regimens are indicated. Two other FTIs are in an earlier stage of clinical development. BMS-214662 has the main advantage of being cytotoxic in nature, rather than cytostatic; in particular, potent in vivo antitumor activity in human tumor xenografts of different histologies has been reported. A major drawback for BMS-214662 is its severe gastrointestinal and liver toxicities, which prevent the achievement ol adequate systemic exposures following the oral route. L-778,123 has been stopped in its clinical development due to its severe and unexpected toxicity, i.e. grade 4 thrombocytopenia and significant Q-T prolongation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)891-897
Number of pages7
JournalAnti-Cancer Drugs
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2002


  • Anticancer therapy
  • Farnesyl transferase inhibitors
  • Ras oncogene

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology
  • Pharmacology


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