Drug Safety

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 209–230

Camptothecin and Podophyllotoxin Derivatives

Inhibitors of Topoisomerase I and II — Mechanisms of Action, Pharmacokinetics and Toxicity Profile
Review Article


Camptothecins represent an established class of effective agents that selectively target topoisomerase I by trapping the catalytic intermediate of the topoisomerase I-DNA reaction, the cleavage complex. The water-soluble salt camptothecin-sodium — introduced in early trials in the 1960s — was highly toxic in animals, whereas the semisynthetic derivatives irinotecan and topotecan did not cause haemorrhagic cystitis because of their higher physicochemical stability and solubility at lower pH values. Myelosuppression, neutropenia and, to a lesser extent, thrombocytopenia are dose-limiting toxic effects of topotecan. In contrast to the structurally-related topotecan, irinotecan is a prodrug which has to be converted to SN-38, its active form. SN-38 is inactivated by conjugation, thus patients with Gilbert’s syndrome and other forms of genetic glucuronidation deficiency are at an increased risk of irinotecan-induced adverse effects, such as neutropenia and diarrhoea.

The cytotoxic mechanism of podophyllotoxin is the inhibition of topoisomerase II. Common adverse effects of etoposide include dose-limiting myelosuppression. Hypersensitivity reactions are more common with etoposide and teniposide than with etoposide phosphate because the formulations of the former contain sensitising solubilisers. Leukopenia and thrombocytopenia occur in 65% and 80%, respectively, of patients after administration of conventional doses of teniposide. Anorexia, vomiting and diarrhoea are generally of mild severity after administration of conventional doses of topoisomerase II inhibitors. Clinical pharmacokinetic studies have revealed substantial interindividual variabilities regarding the area under the concentration-time curve values and steady-state concentrations for all drugs reviewed in this article. Irinotecan, etoposide and teniposide are degraded via complex metabolic pathways. In contrast, topotecan primarily undergoes renal excretion. Regarding etoposide and teniposide, the extent of catechol formation over time during drug metabolism may be associated with a higher risk for secondary malignancies.


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Copyright information

© Adis Data Information BV 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Oncology/Hematology/Immunology/Pneumology/RheumatologyEberhard Karls University Tübingen, UKT - Medical Center IITübingenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Clinical PharmacyEberhard-Karls-University TübingenTübingenGermany

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