Telomerase. A target for anticancer therapy

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1999;886:1-11. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.1999.tb09395.x.


Telomerase is absent in most normal tissues, but is abnormally reactivated in all major cancer types. Telomerase enables tumor cells to maintain telomere length, allowing indefinite replicative capacity. Albeit not sufficient in itself to induce neoplasia, telomerase is believed to be necessary for cancer cells to grow without limit. The presence of telomerase has been detected in virtually all cancer types including the most prevalent cancers of the prostate, breast, lung, colon, bladder, uterus, ovary, and pancreas as well as in lymphomas, leukemias, and melanomas. In addition, data from cancer patients indicate that telomerase levels correlate with clinical outcome in neuroblastomas, leukemias, and prostate, gastric, and breast cancers. Studies using an antisense to the human telomerase RNA component demonstrate that telomerase in human tumor lines can be blocked ex vivo. In these experiments, telomerase inhibition led to telomere shortening and cancer cell death, validating telomerase as a target for anticancer therapy. Telomerase is a uniquely appealing target for drug discovery because its dichotomic expression in normal versus cancer cells suggests that no serious side effects would result from a treatment abrogating telomerase activity. A variety of approaches to telomerase inhibition are being investigated and are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*
  • Telomerase / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Telomerase