Etoposide: a semisynthetic epipodophyllotoxin. Chemistry, pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, adverse effects and use as an antineoplastic agent

Pharmacotherapy. Mar-Apr 1984;4(2):61-73. doi: 10.1002/j.1875-9114.1984.tb03318.x.


Etoposide (VP 16) is a semi-synthetic derivative of 4'- demethylepipodophyllotoxin , a naturally occurring compound synthesized by the North American May apple (Podophyllum peltatum ) and the Indian species Podophyllum emodi Wallich . Although podophyllotoxins are classical spindle poisons causing inhibition of mitosis by blocking mitrotubular assembly, etoposide inhibits cell cycle progression at a premitotic phase (late S and G2), probably via inhibition of DNA synthesis. There appears to be a selective antileukemic dose response relationship when compared to normal hematopoietic elements. Etoposide is effective when administered orally at about twice the recommended parenteral dosage. Schedule dependency in both animal models and clinical trials has been observed; multiple dosing over three to five consecutive days is superior to weekly single dose administration. Etoposide's dose-limiting toxicity is myelosuppression (leukopenia), which is quite predictable; alopecia and Gl toxicity (nausea, vomiting, stomatitis) occur in about 20-30% of patients given recommended dosages. Etoposide appears to be one of the most active drugs for small cell lung cancer, testicular carcinoma (the Food and Drug Administration approved indication), ANLL and malignant lymphoma. Etoposide also has demonstrated activity in refractory pediatric neoplasms, hepatocellular, esophageal, gastric and prostatic carcinoma, ovarian cancer, chronic and acute leukemias and non-small cell lung cancer, although additional single and combination drug studies are needed to substantiate these data. Its contribution in front-line combination chemotherapeutic regimens for these cancers will be better defined in the forthcoming years. Etoposide appears to have minimal activity in breast cancer and, based on current data, it is inactive against malignant melanoma, colorectal adenocarcinoma and cancer of the head and neck, although the dosage and schedules used in many of the Phase II studies may have been suboptimal.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols / therapeutic use
  • Bone Marrow / drug effects
  • Chemical Phenomena
  • Chemistry
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Digestive System / drug effects
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Etoposide* / administration & dosage
  • Etoposide* / adverse effects
  • Etoposide* / metabolism
  • Etoposide* / pharmacology
  • Etoposide* / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Leukemia / drug therapy
  • Lung Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Lymphoma / drug therapy
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms, Germ Cell and Embryonal / drug therapy
  • Podophyllotoxin* / analogs & derivatives


  • Etoposide
  • Podophyllotoxin