Telomerase-based Cancer Therapeutics: A Review on their Clinical Trials

Curr Top Med Chem. 2020;20(6):433-457. doi: 10.2174/1568026620666200102104930.


Telomeres are protective chromosomal ends that shield the chromosomes from DNA damage, exonucleolytic degradation, recombination, and end-to-end fusion. Telomerase is a ribonucleoprotein that adds TTAGGG tandem repeats to the telomeric ends. It has been observed that 85 to 90% of human tumors express high levels of telomerase, playing a crucial role in the development of cancers. Interestingly, the telomerase activity is generally absent in normal somatic cells. This selective telomerase expression has driven scientists to develop novel anti-cancer therapeutics with high specificity and potency. Several advancements have been made in this area, which is reflected by the enormous success of the anticancer agent Imetelstat. Since the discovery of Imetelstat, several research groups have contributed to enrich the therapeutic arsenal against cancer. Such contributions include the application of new classes of small molecules, peptides, and hTERT-based immunotherapeutic agents (p540, GV1001, GRNVAC1 or combinations of these such as Vx-001). Many of these therapeutic tools are under different stages of clinical trials and have shown promising outcomes. In this review, we highlight the current status of telomerase-based cancer therapeutics and the outcome of these investigations.

Keywords: Cancer therapy; Clinical trials; Telomerase inhibitors; Telomeres; Vaccines; hTERT..

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / chemistry
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Telomerase / antagonists & inhibitors*
  • Telomerase / genetics
  • Telomerase / metabolism
  • Telomere / drug effects
  • Telomere / genetics
  • Telomere / metabolism


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Telomerase