Farnesyl transferase inhibitors in the treatment of breast cancer

Expert Opin Investig Drugs. 2003 Mar;12(3):413-21. doi: 10.1517/13543784.12.3.413.


Until recently, the therapeutic treatment of breast cancer has been dominated by endocrine-based drugs (oestrogen receptor antagonists, aromatase inhibitors etc.) and conventional cytotoxics (doxorubicin, cyclophosphamide, 5-fluorouracil etc.). However, the advent of new generation signal transduction inhibitor drugs targeted against the molecular abnormalities of breast cancer (e.g., the antibody trastuzumab, directed against the cERBB2 receptor) has the promise of providing a new era of more tumour selective therapy. Inhibitors of the enzyme farnesyl transferase (FTIs) are now undergoing early-stage clinical trials, including in patients with advanced breast cancer. Although originally developed as inhibitors of RAS signal transduction pathways, it is now apparent that these drugs are better described as prenylation inhibitors; the addition of a 15-carbon prenyl or farnesyl moiety by farnesyl transferase being critical to the function of a number of proteins, including RAS. At least three FTIs are currently undergoing clinical evaluation; R115777 (tipifarnib, Zarnestra), SCH66336 (lonafarnib, Sarasar) and BMS-214662. In terms of their potential use in the chemotherapeutic treatment of advanced breast cancer, a Phase II trial of R115777 (using either continuous or intermittent twice-daily oral dosing) has demonstrated promising activity (approximately 10% partial response rate). Overall, however, the single agent activity of FTIs in various Phase II trials has been rather modest (as well as the above mentioned breast cancer trial, some responses have been seen in patients with acute and chronic myeloid leukaemias). The main dose-limiting toxicities that have been reported are myelosuppression and fatigue and neurotoxicity (with R115777). Two Phase III trials of R115777 in colorectal (versus placebo) and pancreatic (with gemcitabine versus placebo) cancer have failed to show a survival benefit. It is likely that the future clinical direction of FTIs will be as combination therapy, especially with the taxanes, where synergy has been seen in a variety of preclinical studies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkyl and Aryl Transferases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Alkyl and Aryl Transferases / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Benzodiazepines / pharmacology
  • Benzodiazepines / therapeutic use
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Farnesyltranstransferase
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Imidazoles / pharmacology
  • Imidazoles / therapeutic use
  • Piperidines / pharmacology
  • Piperidines / therapeutic use
  • Pyridines / pharmacology
  • Pyridines / therapeutic use
  • Quinolones / pharmacology
  • Quinolones / therapeutic use
  • ras Proteins / genetics
  • ras Proteins / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Imidazoles
  • Piperidines
  • Pyridines
  • Quinolones
  • Benzodiazepines
  • L 778,123
  • Alkyl and Aryl Transferases
  • Farnesyltranstransferase
  • ras Proteins
  • lonafarnib
  • 7-cyano-2,3,4,5-tetrahydro-1-(1H-imidazol-4-ylmethyl)-3-(phenylmethyl)-4-(2-thienylsulfonyl)-1H-1,4-benzodiazepine
  • tipifarnib