Affiliation: Centre de Recherche Pierre Fabre, Division de Chimie Medicinale V, 17 Av. Jean Moulin, F 81106 Castres Cedex, France
The clinical interest of Vinca alkaloids was clearly identified as early as 1965 and so this class of compounds has been used as anticancer agents for more than 30 years. Today, two natural compounds, vinblastine and vincristine and two semi-synthetic derivatives, vindesine and vinorelbine, have been registered and thus Vinca alkaloids can be considered to represent a chemical class of definite utility in cancer chemotherapy. Today, relatively few groups actively research in the chemistry of Vinca alkaloids. However, using superacidic chemistry, a new family of such compounds was synthesised and vinflunine, a difluorinated derivative, was selected for clinical testing. A consideration of the pharmacological data relating to these new derivatives appears to reveal a lack of any marked correlation between in vitro and in vivo results. Furthermore, structure / activity relationships have failed to assist the chemist in the rational design. Such rational design of new derivatives is limited by the fact t hat the Vinca binding site(s) on tubulin and the exact mechanism(s) of action of Vinca alkaloids remain unclear. Nevertheless, the preclinical evaluations of the new derivative vinflunine have already suggested that certain in vitro assays, in addition to in vivo experiments, could be proposed to select more rationally newer generation Vincas. Moreover, recent studies have demonstrated that certain newly identified properties, such as antiangiogenic activities, could enlarge the therapeutic usage of natural and semi-synthetic Vinca alkaloids. Thus, Vinca alkaloids remain a drug family with a continuing interest for future anticancer therapy.