Tyrosine kinase inhibitors: their on-target toxicities as potential indicators of efficacy

Drug Saf. 2013 Jun;36(6):413-26. doi: 10.1007/s40264-013-0050-x.


Tyrosine kinase inhibitors (TKIs) have revolutionized the treatment of certain forms of cancers, raising hopes for many patients with otherwise unresponsive tumours. While these agents are generally well tolerated, clinical experience with them has highlighted their unexpected association with serious toxic effects on various organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, thyroid, skin, blood coagulation, gastrointestinal tract and nervous system. Many of these toxic effects result from downstream inhibition of vascular endothelial growth factor or epidermal growth factor signalling in cells of normal organs. Many of these undesirable effects such as hypertension, hypothyroidism, skin reactions and possibly proteinuria are on-target effects. Since tyrosine kinases are widely distributed with specific functional roles in different organs, this association is not too surprising. Various studies suggest that the development of these on-target effects indicates clinically desirable and effective inhibition of the corresponding ligand-mediated receptor linked with oncogenesis. This is reflected as improved efficacy in the subgroup of patients who develop these on-target adverse effects compared with those who do not. Inevitably, issues arise with respect to the regulatory assessment of efficacy and risk/benefit of the TKIs as well as the clinical approach to managing patients who develop these effects. Routine subgroup analysis of efficacy data from clinical trials (patients with and without on-target toxicity) may enable more effective clinical use of TKIs since (i) discontinuing or reducing the dose of the TKI has a negative impact if the tumour is TKI-responsive; and (ii) it is usually possible to manage these undesirable on-target effects with conventional clinical approaches. Prospective studies are needed to investigate this proposition further.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Endothelium, Vascular / drug effects
  • Endothelium, Vascular / enzymology
  • Endothelium, Vascular / metabolism
  • ErbB Receptors / antagonists & inhibitors
  • ErbB Receptors / metabolism
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasm Proteins / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Neoplasm Proteins / metabolism
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / metabolism
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor / metabolism
  • Risk Assessment
  • Skin / drug effects
  • Skin / enzymology
  • Skin / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Biomarkers
  • Neoplasm Proteins
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors
  • ErbB Receptors
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Receptors, Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor