Tyrosine kinase inhibitors targeted to the epidermal growth factor receptor subfamily: role as anticancer agents

Drugs. 2000 Apr;59(4):753-67. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200059040-00003.


Abnormal cell signal transduction arising from protein tyrosine kinases has been implicated in the initiation and progression of a variety of human cancers. Over the past 2 decades pharmaceutical and university laboratories have been involved in a tremendous effort to develop compounds that can selectively modulate these abnormal signalling pathways. Targeting receptor tyrosine kinases, especially the epidermal growth factor receptor subfamily, has been at the forefront of this effort as a result of strong clinical data correlating over-expression of these receptors with more aggressive cancers. There are a variety of strategies under development for inhibiting the kinase activity of these receptors, targeting both the extracellular and intracellular domains. Antibody-based approaches, immunotoxins and ligand-binding cytotoxic agents use the extracellular domain for targeted tumour therapy. Small molecule inhibitors target the intracellular catalytic region by interfering with ATP binding, while nonphosphorylatable peptides are aimed at the intracellular substrate binding region. Compounds that inhibit subsequent downstream signals from the receptor by interrupting intracellular protein recognition sequences are also being investigated. In the past 5 years enormous progress has been made in developing tyrosine kinase inhibitor compounds with sufficient potency, bioavailability and selectivity against this subfamily of receptor tyrosine kinases. The anti-HER2 monoclonal antibody, trastuzumab, for patients with metastatic breast cancer is the first of these inhibitor compounds to gain FDA approval. However, preclinical and clinical trials are ongoing with a variety of other monoclonal antibodies, immunotoxins, and small molecule quinazoline and pyrimidine-based inhibitors. Although their cytotoxic and cytostatic potential has been proven, they are not likely to replace standard chemotherapy regimens as single-agent, first-line therapeutics. Instead, their promising additive and synergistic antitumour effects in combination with standard chemotherapeutics suggest that these novel agents will find their greatest utility and efficacy in conjunction with existing anticancer agents.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • ErbB Receptors