Principles in the design of ligand-targeted cancer therapeutics and imaging agents

Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2015 Mar;14(3):203-19. doi: 10.1038/nrd4519. Epub 2015 Feb 20.


Most cancer drugs are designed to interfere with one or more events in cell proliferation or survival. As healthy cells may also need to proliferate and avoid apoptosis, anticancer agents can be toxic to such cells. To minimize these toxicities, strategies have been developed wherein the therapeutic agent is targeted to tumour cells through conjugation to a tumour-cell-specific small-molecule ligand, thereby reducing delivery to normal cells and the associated collateral toxicity. This Review describes the major principles in the design of ligand-targeted drugs and provides an overview of ligand-drug conjugates and ligand-imaging-agent conjugates that are currently in development.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemical synthesis*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Contrast Media / chemical synthesis*
  • Contrast Media / pharmacology*
  • Drug Delivery Systems
  • Drug Design*
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Contrast Media
  • Ligands