One of the challenges of cancer therapeutics is to discover targets unique to the tumor cell population. Constitutively activated tyrosine kinases play a role in the malignant phenotype in a number of different cancers. While the kinases may be present in the normal cell, the cancer cell is often dependent upon the activation of the kinase for the maintenance of malignant growth. Inhibition of kinase activation may therefore selectively inhibit malignant proliferation. In the case of chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), the activated tyrosine kinase (BCR-ABL) is due to a chromosomal translocation that defines this disease, and is necessary for malignant transformation. Imatinib mesylate (Gleevec, Novartis) is a small molecule tyrosine kinase inhibitor, developed through the chemical modification to be selected for a small number of tyrosine kinases present in human cells. This agent is also orally bioavailable and has been found to be effective in clinical trials. We have learned much through the clinical use of this agent. 1) Specific targeting of activated signal transduction pathways may be effective in inhibiting cancer cells. 2) Cancer cells may not only be inherently resistant to small molecule inhibitors, but may also develop resistance after exposure to the inhibitor. 3) Increased knowledge regarding critical signal transduction pathways, the structure of the molecules that are being targeted and the inhibitors themselves, will allow us to understand resistance as it develops and create new molecules to bypass resistance. We will discuss imatinib as an important example of the success and pitfalls of targeted therapeutics for cancer.
Keywords: Imatinib, gleevec, chronic myelogenous leukemia, tyrosine kinase inhibitors
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