Role of Raf kinase in cancer: therapeutic potential of targeting the Raf/MEK/ERK signal transduction pathway

Semin Oncol. 2006 Aug;33(4):392-406. doi: 10.1053/j.seminoncol.2006.04.002.


Improvements in our understanding of the molecular basis of cancer have led to the clinical development of protein kinase inhibitors, which target pivotal molecules involved in intracellular signaling pathways implicated in tumorigenesis and progression. These novel targeted agents have demonstrated activity against a wide range of solid tumors, are generally better tolerated than standard chemotherapeutics, and may revolutionize the management of advanced refractory cancer. The ubiquitous Raf serine/threonine kinases are pivotal molecules within the Raf/mitogen extracellular kinase (MEK)/extracellular signal-related kinase (ERK) signaling pathway, which regulates cellular proliferation and survival. Raf kinase isoforms (wild-type Raf-1 or the b-raf V600E oncogene) are overactivated in a variety of solid tumor types, including renal cell carcinoma (RCC), hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC), melanoma, and papillary thyroid carcinoma. In this review, the role of Raf in normal cells and in cancer is discussed, and an overview is given of Raf inhibitors currently in development, focusing on sorafenib tosylate (BAY 43-9006 or sorafenib). Sorafenib is the first oral multi-kinase inhibitor to be developed that targets Raf kinases (Raf-1, wild-type B-Raf, and b-raf V600E), in addition to receptor tyrosine kinases associated with angiogenesis (vascular endothelial growth factor receptor [VEGFR]-2/-3, platelet-derived growth factor receptor [PDGFR]-beta) or tumor progression (Flt-3, c-kit). Preclinical and clinical sorafenib data that led to its recent approval for the treatment of advanced RCC are summarized, along with current thinking on sorafenib's mechanism of effect on the tumor and tumor vasculature in melanoma and RCC.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Benzenesulfonates / pharmacology
  • Benzenesulfonates / therapeutic use
  • Carcinoma, Renal Cell / drug therapy
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / drug effects
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / chemistry
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases / drug effects*
  • Melanoma / drug therapy
  • Mice
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / physiopathology*
  • Niacinamide / analogs & derivatives
  • Phenylurea Compounds
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / pharmacology*
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Pyridines / pharmacology
  • Pyridines / therapeutic use
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*
  • Sorafenib
  • raf Kinases / chemistry
  • raf Kinases / drug effects*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Benzenesulfonates
  • Phenylurea Compounds
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • Pyridines
  • Niacinamide
  • Sorafenib
  • raf Kinases
  • Extracellular Signal-Regulated MAP Kinases