Small molecule modulators of cyclin-dependent kinases for cancer therapy

Oncogene. 2000 Dec 27;19(56):6600-6. doi: 10.1038/sj.onc.1204085.


The majority of human malignancies have aberrancies in the Retinoblastoma (Rb) pathway. Loss in Rb function results from the phosphorylation and inactivation of Rb by the cyclin-dependent kinases (cdks), main regulators of cell cycle progression. Thus, modulators of cdks may have a role in the treatment of human malignancies. Flavopiridol, the first cdk modulator tested in clinical trials, demonstrates interesting preclinical features: cell cycle block, 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 lymphomas and renal, colon gastric carcinomas. Main side effects were diarrhea and hypotension. Phase 2 trials with infusional flavopiridol, other schedules and combination with standard chemotherapies are ongoing. The second cdk modulator tested in clinical trials, UCN-01, is a PKC inhibitor that can also modulate cdk activity. Similar to flavopiridol, UCN-01 blocks cell cycle progression and promotes apoptosis. Moreover, UCN-01 may abrogate checkpoints induced by genotoxic stress due to inhibition of chk1 kinase. The first clinical trial of UCN-01 demonstrated very prolonged half-life (approximately 600 h), due to high binding affinity of UCN-01 to the human alpha-1-acid glycoprotein. Main side effects were headaches, vomiting, hypoxemia and hyperglycemia. Clinical activity was observed in some patients with melanoma and lymphoma. Trials of shorter infusions of UCN-01 or in combination with standard chemotherapeutic agents are ongoing. Although several important basic and clinical questions remain unanswered, development of cdk modulators is a reasonable strategy for cancer therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkaloids / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Apoptosis / drug effects
  • Cell Cycle
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Cyclin-Dependent Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Flavonoids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Piperidines / therapeutic use*
  • Protein Kinase C / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Retinoblastoma Protein / metabolism
  • Staurosporine / analogs & derivatives


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