Antisense oligonucleotides can block the expression of specific target genes involved in the development of human diseases. Therapeutic applications of antisense techniques are currently under investigation in many different fields. The use of antisense molecules to modify gene expression is variable in its efficacy and reliability, raising objections about their use as therapeutic agents. However, preliminary results of several clinical studies demonstrated the safety and to some extent the efficacy of antisense oligodeoxynucleotides (ODNs) in patients with malignant diseases. Clinical response was observed in some patients suffering from ovarian cancer who were treated with antisense targeted against the gene encoding for the protein kinase C-alpha. Some hematological diseases treated with antisense oligos targeted against the bcr/abl and the bcl2 mRNAs have shown promising clinical response. Antisense therapy has been useful in the treatment of cardiovascular disorders such as restenosis after angioplasty, vascular bypass graft occlusion, and transplant coronary vasculopathy. Antisense oligonucleotides also have shown promise as antiviral agents. Several investigators are performing trials with oligonucleotides targeted against the human immunodeficiency virus-1 (HIV-1) and hepatitis viruses. Phosphorothioate ODNs now have reached phase I and II in clinical trials for the treatment of cancer and viral infections, so far demonstrating an acceptable safety and pharmacokinetic profile for continuing their development. The new drug Vitravene, based on a phosphorothioate oligonucleotide designed to inhibit the human cytomegalovirus (CMV), promises that some substantial successes can be reached with the antisense technique.
Copyright 1999 Wiley-Liss, Inc.