Acute leukemia carries a poor prognosis, especially in older patients, emphasizing the need for novel therapies. Reasons for treatment failure include high rates of relapse and treatment-related toxicities. Farnesyltransferase inhibitors (FTIs), a new class of agents that can interfere with intracellular signaling, are good therapeutic candidates for study in these diseases, given the relatively high levels of the target enzyme, farnesyltransferase, expressed in bone marrow and by peripheral circulating lymphocytes. ZARNESTRA™ (formerly R115777, Ortho Biotech Oncology, Raritan, NJ) is an FTI that has clinical activity in solid tumors and antileukemic activity in vitro. In a phase I trial of Zarnestra in patients with high-risk leukemia (resistant or relapsed acute myeloid leukemia [AML] or acute lymphocytic leukemia [ALL], chronic myeloid leukemia [CML] in blast crisis, or AML in poor prognosis subgroups), patients experienced an overall response rate of 29%. Zarnestra was well tolerated with no dose-limiting toxicities through doses up to 900 mg twice daily. Assays measuring inhibition of farnesyltransferase activity showed a reliable inhibition at doses greater than 300 mg twice daily, and pharmacokinetic studies indicated that Zarnestra accumulated preferentially in the bone marrow in a dose-dependent fashion. These results suggest that Zarnestra should be studied further in patients with myeloid leukemia.
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