Basis for effective combination cancer chemotherapy with antimetabolites

Pharmacol Ther. Aug-Sep 2000;87(2-3):227-53. doi: 10.1016/s0163-7258(00)00086-3.


Most current chemotherapy regimens for cancer consist of empirically designed combinations, based on efficacy and lack of overlapping toxicity. In the development of combinations, several aspects are often overlooked: (1) possible metabolic and biological interactions between drugs, (2) scheduling, and (3) different pharmacokinetic profiles. Antimetabolites are used widely in chemotherapy combinations for treatment of various leukemias and solid tumors. Ideally, the combination of two or more agents should be more effective than each agent separately (synergism), although additive and even antagonistic combinations may result in a higher therapeutic efficacy in the clinic. The median-drug effect analysis method is one of the most widely used methods for in vitro evaluation of combinations. Several examples of classical effective antimetabolite-(anti)metabolite combinations are discussed, such as that of methotrexate with 6-mercaptopurine or leucovorin in (childhood) leukemia and 5-fluorouracil (5FU) with leucovorin in colon cancer. More recent combinations include treatment of acute-myeloid leukemia with fludarabine and arabinosylcytosine. Other combinations, currently frequently used in the treatment of solid malignancies, include an antimetabolite with a DNA-damaging agent, such as gemcitabine with cisplatin and 5FU with the cisplatin analog oxaliplatin. The combination of 5FU and the topoisomerase inhibitor irinotecan is based on decreased repair of irinotecan-induced DNA damage. These combinations may increase induction of apoptosis. The latter combinations have dramatically changed the treatment of incurable cancers, such as lung and colon cancer, and have demonstrated that rationally designed drug combinations offer new possibilities to treat solid malignancies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / pharmacology*
  • Colonic Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Deoxycytidine / analogs & derivatives
  • Deoxycytidine / pharmacology
  • Deoxycytidine Kinase / metabolism
  • Drug Therapy / trends
  • Fluorouracil / administration & dosage
  • Fluorouracil / pharmacology*
  • Humans
  • Leucovorin / pharmacology
  • Leukemia / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Thymidylate Synthase / metabolism


  • Antimetabolites, Antineoplastic
  • Deoxycytidine
  • gemcitabine
  • Thymidylate Synthase
  • Deoxycytidine Kinase
  • Leucovorin
  • Fluorouracil