Specific CDK4/6 inhibition in breast cancer: a systematic review of current clinical evidence

ESMO Open. 2017 Jan 23;1(6):e000093. doi: 10.1136/esmoopen-2016-000093. eCollection 2016.


Background: Loss of cell cycle control is a hallmark of cancer, and aberrations in the cyclin-dependent kinase-retinoblastoma (CDK-Rb) pathway are common in breast cancer (BC). Consequently, inhibition of this pathway is an attractive therapeutic strategy. The present review addresses efficacy and toxicity of CDK4/6 inhibition in BC.

Methods: A literature search was carried out using PubMed and EMBASE; data reported at international meetings and clinicaltrials.gov were included.

Results: Three specific CDK4/6 inhibitors palbociclib, abemaciclib and ribociclib are tested in clinical trials. A randomised phase II trial of palbociclib plus letrozole versus letrozole and a phase III of palbociclib plus fulvestrant versus fulvestrant showed significantly increased progression-free survival when compared with endocrine therapy alone in first-line and second-line treatment for advanced hormone receptor-positive HER2-negative BC. At the moment several phase III studies are ongoing with all three CDK4/6 inhibitors in hormone receptor-positive HER2-negative BC as well as other subtypes of BC. The predominant toxicity of agents was limited neutropenia. Other common adverse events were infections, fatigue and gastrointestinal toxicity. The toxicities seemed manageable. Yet data are too limited to differentiate between the compounds. Retinoblastoma protein (Rb) is considered a promising biomarker.

Conclusion: CDK4/6 inhibition might represent a substantial advance for patients with hormone receptor-positive HER2-negative BC. Results must be confirmed in phase III trials before any firm conclusions can be made regarding the future influence of CDK4/6 inhibition. There is an urgent need for prospective biomarker-driven trials to identify patients for whom CDK4/6 inhibition is cost-effective.

Keywords: CDK4/6 inhibitor; abemaciclib; breast cancer; palbociclib; ribociclib.

Publication types

  • Review