Development of cyclin-dependent kinase modulators as novel therapeutic approaches for hematological malignancies

Leukemia. 2001 Jan;15(1):1-9. doi: 10.1038/sj.leu.2401994.


The majority of hematopoietic malignancies have aberrancies in the retinoblastoma (Rb) pathway. Loss in Rb function is, in most cases, a result of the phosphorylation and inactivation of Rb by the cyclin-dependent kinases (cdks), main regulators of cell cycle progression. Flavopiridol, the first cdk modulator tested in clinical trials, is a flavonoid that inhibits several cdks with evidence of cell cycle block. Other interesting preclinical features are the induction of apoptosis, promotion of differentiation, inhibition of angiogenic processes and modulation of transcriptional events. Initial clinical trials with infusional flavopiridol demonstrated activity in some patients with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, renal, prostate, colon and gastric carcinomas. Main side-effects were secretory diarrhea and a pro-inflammatory syndrome associated with hypotension. Phase 2 trials with infusional flavopiridol in CLL and mantle cell lymphoma, other schedules and combination with standard chemotherapies are ongoing. The second cdk modulator tested in clinical trials, UCN-01, is a potent protein kinase C inhibitor that inhibits cdk activity in vitro as well. UCN-01 blocks cell cycle progression and promotes apoptosis in hematopoietic models. Moreover, UCN-01 is able to abrogate checkpoints induced by genotoxic stress due to modulation in chk1 kinase. The first clinical trial of UCN-01 demonstrated very prolonged half-life (approximately 600 h), 100 times longer than the half-life observed in preclinical models. This effect is due to high binding affinity of UCN-01 to the human plasma protein alpha-1-acid glycoprotein. Main side-effects in this trial were headaches, nausea/vomiting, hypoxemia and hyperglycemia. Clinical activity was observed in patients with melanoma, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and leiomyosarcoma. Of interest, a patient with anaplastic large cell lymphoma refractory to high-dose chemotherapy showed no evidence of disease after 3 years of UCN-01 therapy. Trials of infusional UCN-01 in combination with Ara-C or gemcitabine in patients with acute leukemia and CLL, respectively, have commenced. In conclusion, flavopiridol and UCN-01 are cdk modulators that reach biologically active concentrations effective in modulating CDK in vitro, and show encouraging results in early clinical trials in patients with refractory hematopoietic malignancies. Although important questions remain to be answered, these positive experiences will hopefully increase the therapeutic modalities in hematological malignancies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / pharmacology*
  • Alkaloids / therapeutic use
  • Cell Cycle / drug effects
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / metabolism
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Flavonoids / pharmacology*
  • Flavonoids / therapeutic use
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Hematologic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Piperidines / pharmacology*
  • Piperidines / therapeutic use
  • Retinoblastoma Protein / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Staurosporine / analogs & derivatives


  • Alkaloids
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Flavonoids
  • Piperidines
  • Retinoblastoma Protein
  • alvocidib
  • 7-hydroxystaurosporine
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases
  • Staurosporine