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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Apoptosis and Chemotherapy: Helping Cancer Cells to Die

For an organism to develop multicellular tissues and organs, and to maintain cellular homeostasis during adulthood, the formation of new cells needs to be co-ordinated with the elimination of redundant and damaged cells. Apoptosis is the morphological manifestation of programmed cell death; the predominant mechanism that opposes and compliments cell proliferation. An imbalance between cell birth and death has pathological consequences: many chronic and acute degenerative disorders, as well as immunodeficiency diseases and infertility, are characterised by abnormally high rates of cell death in certain tissues. Conversely, suppression or retardation of apoptosis are distinguishing features in autoimmunity and cancer. Here I shall confine my discussion to the impact our current understanding of apoptotic signalling, as well as the mechanics of apoptosis, have on oncology drug discovery and development. Selective activation of programmed cell death in cancer cells is particularly desirable because apoptosis, as opposed to necrosis and other catastrophic cell injuries, leads to complete destruction and eradication of the aberrant cells without inflammatory and immunological side-effects.

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By Peter M Fischer, Head of Discovery Research at Cyclacel Limited

Peter M Fischer received his PhD from Deakin University, Australia. He has worked in academia, as well as the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries on peptidomimetic and traditional medicinal chemistry projects related to drug discovery. For the last six years, he has been with the cancer research company Cyclacel, Scotland, for whom he established structure-based design and medicinal chemistry capabilities. He is currently Head of Discovery Research and focuses on cell cycle-related drug discovery targets, including CDKs and other protein kinases.

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Peter M Fischer
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