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Proteasome inhibition is a new approach under investigation for cancer therapy. Protein degradation by the proteasome is a fundamental metabolic process. Inhibition of the proteasome has been shown to result in cell-cycle arrest and programmed cell death.
Bortezomib (Velcade®; formerly PS-341, Millennium Pharmaceuticals, Inc, Cambridge, Massachusetts) is the first proteasome inhibitor to enter clinical trials and is approved for the treatment of multiple myeloma in patients who have received at least two prior therapies and progressed on their last therapy. It is also being investigated for the treatment of a range of other cancers, both solid and hematologic. In preclinical studies, bortezomib causes apoptosis in cancer cells and seems to enhance the cytotoxicity of other conventional tumoricidal agents in human tumor cell lines, murine tumor models, and human xenograft models. In addition to targeting cancer cells directly, there is growing evidence that proteasome inhibition interferes with protective interactions between cancer cells and the bone marrow and may also act to prevent tumor-associated angiogenesis.
Preliminary data suggest that bortezomib inhibits proteasome activity in a dose-dependent and reversible manner, and has manageable toxicities. A phase II trial in relapsed and refractory multiple myeloma patients indicated that patients experienced substantial anticancer activity when treated with bortezomib monotherapy.