Overview: translating Hsp90 biology into Hsp90 drugs

Curr Cancer Drug Targets. 2003 Oct;3(5):297-300. doi: 10.2174/1568009033481868.


The Hsp90 molecular chaperone has emerged as one of the most exciting targets for cancer drug development. Hsp90 is overexpressed in many malignancies, very likely as a result of the stress that is induced both by the hostile cancer microenvironment and also by the mutation and abberant expression of oncoproteins. A particularly attractive feature of Hsp90 as a cancer drug target is that it is required for the conformational stability and function of a wide range of oncogenic 'client' proteins, including c-Raf-1, Cdk4, ErbB2, mutant p53, c-Met, Polo-1 and telomerase hTERT. Inhibition of Hsp90 should therefore block multiple mission critical oncogenic pathways in the cancer cell, leading to inhibition of all the hallmark traits of malignancy. This combinatorial blockade of oncogenic targets should give rise to board spectrum antitumour activity across multiple cancer types. The 'druggability' of Hsp90 was confirmed by the discovery that the natural products geldanamycin and radicicol, which have anticancer activity, exert their biological effects by inhibiting the essential ATPase activity associated with the N-terminal domain of the protein. The first-in-class Hsp90 inhibitor has entered clinical trial and provided proof of concept that Hsp90 can be inhibited and clinical benefit seen at non-toxic doses. Further development is underway and a related analogue 17DMAG also shows promise in preclinical models. In addition, novel Hsp90 inhibitors have been identified using methods such as high throughput screening and x-ray crystallography. The opportunities and challenges involved in translating the fast moving biology of Hsp90 into patient benefit is discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Benzoquinones
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins / drug effects*
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins / genetics*
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins / physiology
  • Humans
  • Lactams, Macrocyclic
  • Molecular Chaperones / physiology
  • Rifabutin / analogs & derivatives*
  • Rifabutin / pharmacology


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Benzoquinones
  • HSP90 Heat-Shock Proteins
  • Lactams, Macrocyclic
  • Molecular Chaperones
  • Rifabutin
  • tanespimycin