Targeting cytochrome P450 enzymes: a new approach in anti-cancer drug development

Bioorg Med Chem. 2007 Aug 1;15(15):5047-60. doi: 10.1016/j.bmc.2007.05.046. Epub 2007 May 23.


Cytochrome P450s (CYPs) represent a large class of heme-containing enzymes that catalyze the metabolism of multitudes of substrates both endogenous and exogenous. Until recently, however, CYPs have been largely overlooked in cancer drug development, acknowledged only for their role in phase I metabolism of chemotherapeutics. The first successful strategy targeting CYP enzymes in cancer therapy was the development of potent inhibitors of CYP19 (aromatase) for the treatment of breast cancer. Aromatase inhibitors ushered in a new era in hormone ablation therapy for estrogen dependent cancers, and have paved the way for similar strategies (i.e., inhibition of CYP17) that combat androgen dependent prostate cancer. Identification of CYPs involved in the inactivation of anti-cancer metabolites of vitamin D(3) and vitamin A has triggered development of agents that target these enzymes as well. The discovery of the over-expression of exogenous metabolizing CYPs, such as CYP1B1, in cancer cells has roused interest in the development of inhibitors for chemoprevention and of prodrugs designed to be activated by CYPs only in cancer cells. Finally, the expression of CYPs within tumors has been utilized in the development of bioreductive molecules that are activated by CYPs only under hypoxic conditions. This review offers the first comprehensive analysis of strategies in drug development that either inhibit or exploit CYP enzymes for the treatment of cancer.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme Inhibitors*
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / enzymology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System