Published in Cancer Detection and Prevention 2002; 26(6).

Pharmacogenomics in cancer drug discovery and development: inhibitors of the Hsp90 molecular chaperone

Paul Workman

Cancer Research UK Centre for Cancer Therapeutics, Institute of Cancer Research, Block E, 15 Cotswold Road, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5NG, UK

rug discovery is being revolutionised by a number of technological developments. These include high throughput screening, combinatorial chemistry and genomics. The impact of the new technologies is to accelerate the pace of anticancer discovery. The completion of the Human Genome Project and the ongoing high throughput sequencing of cancer genomes will facilitate the identification of a range of new molecular targets for drug discovery. Over the next few years we will have a complete molecular understanding of the various combinations of genes and cognate pathways that drive the malignant phenotype and tumour progression. The vision for postgenomic cancer drug discovery must be to identify therapeutic agents that correct or exploit each of these molecular abnormalities. In this way, it will be possible to develop personalised drug combinations that are targeted to the molecular make up of individual tumours. It is anticipated that these therapies will be more effective and less toxic than current approaches, although combinations of novel agents with existing cytotoxic therapies are likely to continue for some time. Examples of postgenomic, mechanism-based drugs include Glivec, Herceptin and Iressa, with many more agents undergoing preclinical and clinical development. An interesting new approach involves the development of inhibitors of heat shock protein (Hsp90) molecular chaperone. Because Hsp90 is required for the correct folding, stability and function of a range of oncoproteins that are mutated or over expressed in cancer, Hsp90 inhibitors have the potential to provide a simultaneous, combinatorial attack on multiple oncogenic pathways. By depleting the levels of multiple oncoproteins in cancer cells and blocking a wide range of oncogenic pathways, Hsp90 inhibitors have the potential to inhibit all of the hallmark characteristics of cancer cells. Progress in the preclinical and clinical development of Hsp90 inhibitors will be described, including an update on clinical studies with the first-in-class agent 17AAG. The use of the postgenomic technology of gene expression microarrays in cancer pharmacology and drug development will be exemplified.

KEY WORDS: Pharmacogenomics, Hsp90, Molecular chaperone.