Porphyrin and nonporphyrin photosensitizers in oncology: preclinical and clinical advances in photodynamic therapy

Photochem Photobiol. 2009 Sep-Oct;85(5):1053-74. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-1097.2009.00585.x. Epub 2009 Aug 3.


Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is now a well-recognized modality for the treatment of cancer. While PDT has developed progressively over the last century, great advances have been observed in the field in recent years. The concept of dual selectivity of PDT agents is now widely accepted due to the relative specificity and selectivity of PDT along with the absence of harmful side effects often encountered with chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Traditionally, porphyrin-based photosensitizers have dominated the PDT field but these first generation photosensitizers have several disadvantages, with poor light absorption and cutaneous photosensitivity being the predominant side effects. As a result, the requirement for new photosensitizers, including second generation porphyrins and porphyrin derivatives as well as third generation photosensitizers has arisen, with the aim of alleviating the problems encountered with first generation porphyrins and improving the efficacy of PDT. The investigation of nonporphyrin photosensitizers for the development of novel PDT agents has been considerably less extensive than porphyrin-based compounds; however, structural modification of nonporphyrin photosensitizers has allowed for manipulation of the photochemotherapeutic properties. The aim of this review is to provide an insight into PDT photosensitizers clinically approved for application in oncology, as well as those which show significant potential in ongoing preclinical studies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Photochemotherapy*
  • Photosensitizing Agents / pharmacology*
  • Porphyrins / pharmacology*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Photosensitizing Agents
  • Porphyrins