Farnesyltransferase inhibitors represent a new class of agents that target signal transduction pathways responsible for the proliferation and survival of diverse malignant cell types. Although these agents were developed to prevent a processing step necessary for membrane attachment and maturation of Ras proteins, recent studies suggest that farnesyltransferase inhibitors block the farnesylation of additional cellular polypeptides, thereby exerting antitumor effects independent of the presence of activating ras gene mutations. Clinical trials of two farnesyltransferase inhibitors--the tricyclic SCH66336 and the methylquinolone R115777--as single agents have demonstrated disease stabilization or objective responses in 10 to 15% of patients with refractory malignancies. Combinations of farnesyltransferase inhibitors with cytotoxic chemotherapies are yielding complete and partial responses in patients with advanced solid tumors. A phase I trial of R115777 in refractory and relapsed acute leukemias induced responses in 8 (32%) of 25 patients with acute myelogenous leukemia (including two complete remissions) and in two of three with chronic myelogenous leukemia in blast crisis. In patients with solid tumors, accessible normal tissues such as peripheral blood lymphocytes or, perhaps more germane to epithelial malignancies, buccal mucosa have provided surrogate tissues that allow confirmation that farnesyltransferase is inhibited in vivo at clinically achievable drug doses. In conjunction with the R115777 acute leukemia trial, serial measurements provided evidence of farnesyltransferase enzyme inhibition, interference with farnesyltransferase function ( ie, protein processing), and blockade of signal transduction pathways in leukemic bone marrow cells. Preclinical studies of farnesyltransferase inhibitor resistance and clinical trials of farnesyltransferase inhibitors in combination with other agents currently are in progress.