Properties of FDA-approved small molecule protein kinase inhibitors: A 2020 update

Pharmacol Res. 2020 Feb:152:104609. doi: 10.1016/j.phrs.2019.104609. Epub 2019 Dec 17.


Because genetic alterations including mutations, overexpression, translocations, and dysregulation of protein kinases are involved in the pathogenesis of many illnesses, this enzyme family is currently the subject of many drug discovery programs in the pharmaceutical industry. The US FDA approved four small molecule protein kinase antagonists in 2019; these include entrectinib, erdafitinib, pexidartinib, and fedratinib. Entrectinib binds to TRKA/B/C and ROS1 and is prescribed for the treatment of solid tumors with NTRK fusion proteins and for ROS1-postive non-small cell lung cancers. Erdafitinib inhibits fibroblast growth factor receptors 1-4 and is used in the treatment of urothelial bladder cancers. Pexidartinib is a CSF1R antagonist that is prescribed for the treatment of tenosynovial giant cell tumors. Fedratinib blocks JAK2 and is used in the treatment of myelofibrosis. Overall, the US FDA has approved 52 small molecule protein kinase inhibitors, nearly all of which are orally effective with the exceptions of temsirolimus (which is given intravenously) and netarsudil (an eye drop). Of the 52 approved drugs, eleven inhibit protein-serine/threonine protein kinases, two are directed against dual specificity protein kinases, eleven target non-receptor protein-tyrosine kinases, and 28 block receptor protein-tyrosine kinases. The data indicate that 46 of these drugs are used in the treatment of neoplastic diseases (eight against non-solid tumors such as leukemias and 41 against solid tumors including breast and lung cancers; some drugs are used against both tumor types). Eight drugs are employed in the treatment of non-malignancies: fedratinib, myelofibrosis; ruxolitinib, myelofibrosis and polycythemia vera; fostamatinib, chronic immune thrombocytopenia; baricitinib, rheumatoid arthritis; sirolimus, renal graft vs. host disease; nintedanib, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; netarsudil, glaucoma; and tofacitinib, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn disease, and ulcerative colitis. Moreover, sirolimus and ibrutinib are used for the treatment of both neoplastic and non-neoplastic diseases. Entrectinib and larotrectinib are tissue-agnostic anti-cancer small molecule protein kinase inhibitors. These drugs are prescribed for the treatment of any solid cancer harboring NTRK1/2/3 fusion proteins regardless of the organ, tissue, anatomical location, or histology type. Of the 52 approved drugs, seventeen are used in the treatment of more than one disease. Imatinib, for example, is approved for the treatment of eight disparate disorders. The most common drug targets of the approved pharmaceuticals include BCR-Abl, B-Raf, vascular endothelial growth factor receptors (VEGFR), epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFR), and ALK. Most of the approved small molecule protein kinase antagonists (49) bind to the protein kinase domain and six of them bind covalently. In contrast, everolimus, temsirolimus, and sirolimus are larger molecules (MW ≈ 1000) that bind to FK506 binding protein-12 (FKBP-12) to generate a complex that inhibits the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) protein kinase complex. This review presents the physicochemical properties of all of the FDA-approved small molecule protein kinase inhibitors. Twenty-two of the 52 drugs have molecular weights greater than 500, exceeding a Lipinski rule of five criterion. Excluding the macrolides (everolimus, sirolimus, temsirolimus), the average molecular weight of the approved drugs is 480 with a range of 306 (ruxolitinib) to 615 (trametinib). More than half of the antagonists (29) have lipophilic efficiency values of less than five while the recommended optima range from 5 to 10. One of the troublesome problems with both targeted and cytotoxic drugs in the treatment of malignant diseases is the near universal development of resistance to every therapeutic modality.

Keywords: Binimetinib (PubMED CID: 10288191); Catalytic spine; Crizotinib (PubMED CID: 9033117); Dabrafenib (PubMED CID: 44462760); Entrectinib (PubMED CID: 25141092); Erdafitinib (PubMED CID: 67462786); Fedratinib (PubMED CID: 16722836); Hydrophobic interaction; Imatinib (PubMED CID: 123596); Pexidartinib (PubMED CID: 25151352); Protein kinase inhibitor classification; Protein kinase structure; Regulatory spine; Shell residues; Sorafenib (PubMED CID: 216239); Trametinib (PubMED CID: 11707110).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / classification
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Drug Approval
  • Humans
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors* / chemistry
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors* / classification
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors* / pharmacology
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors* / therapeutic use
  • United States
  • United States Food and Drug Administration


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Protein Kinase Inhibitors