Tyrosine kinase inhibitors: from rational design to clinical trials

Med Res Rev. 2001 Nov;21(6):499-512. doi: 10.1002/med.1022.


Protein kinases play a crucial role in signal transduction as well as in cellular proliferation, differentiation, and various regulatory mechanisms. The inhibition of growth related kinases, especially tyrosine kinases, might provide new therapies for diseases such as cancer. The progress made in the crystallization of protein kinases has confirmed that the ATP-binding domain of tyrosine kinases is an attractive target for drug design. Three successful examples of drug design at Novartis using a tyrosine kinase as a molecular target are described. PKI166, a pyrrolo[2,3,-d]pyrimidine derivative, is a dual inhibitor of both the EGFR and the ErbB2 kinases. The compound entered clinical trials in 1999, based on its favorable preclinical profile: potent inhibition of EGF-mediated signalling in cells, in vivo antitumor activity in several EGFR overexpressing xenograft tumor models in nude mice, long-lasting inhibition of EGF-stimulated EGFR autophosphorylation in tumor tissue, good oral bioavailability in animals, and no prohibitive in vitro and in vivo toxicity findings. The anilino-phthalazine derivative PTK787/ZK222584 (Phase I, co-developed by Schering AG, Berlin) is a potent and selective inhibitor of both the KDR and Flt-1 kinases with interesting anti-angiogenic and pharmacokinetic properties (orally bioavailable). STI571 (Glivec, Gleevec), a phenylamino-pyrimidine derivative, is a potent inhibitor of the Abl tyrosine kinase, which is present in 95% of patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML). The compound specifically inhibits proliferation of v-Abl and Bcr-Abl expressing cells (including cells from CML patients) and shows anti-tumor activity as a single agent in animal models at well-tolerated doses. Pharmacologically relevant concentrations are achieved in the plasma of animals (oral administration). Promising data from phase I and II clinical trials in CML patients (98% haematological response rate in Phase I) support the fact that the STI571 represents a new treatment modality for CML. In addition, potent inhibition of the PDGFR and c-Kit tyrosine kinases also indicates its possible clinical use in solid tumors.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Trials as Topic*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / chemistry*
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases