Cyclin-Dependent Kinase Inhibitors for the Treatment of Breast Cancer: Past, Present, and Future

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Treatment of metastatic breast cancer (MBC) that is resistant to endocrine therapy presents a significant clinical challenge. The well-known role of cell cycle dysregulation in these patients is partly mediated by cyclin-dependent kinase (CDK) activity. Specific cyclin and CDK complexes regulate cell cycle progression by managing the transition through the cell cycle, and inhibition of CDKs represents an important target for novel agents. First-generation CDK inhibitors (e.g., flavopiridol) were relatively nonselective and had an unacceptable toxicity profile in early trials. Second-generation CDK inhibitors were designed to target the CDK4 and CDK6 (CDK4/6) pathway and have shown promising clinical activity with an acceptable toxicity profile in patients with MBC. Palbociclib is a first-in-class CDK4/6 inhibitor that was granted accelerated U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in combination with letrozole for the treatment of MBC in the first-line setting (February 2015) as well as in combination with fulvestrant for MBC that had progressed on previous endocrine therapy (February 2016). Other CDK4/6 inhibitors, including ribociclib and abemaciclib, are under investigation as monotherapy and in combination with endocrine or anti–human epidermal growth receptor 2 therapy for the treatment of MBC. Ongoing clinical trials should provide additional information to guide the appropriate use of these agents and identify patient populations that could derive the most benefit.

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