The appreciation of the role of apoptosis in the vast majority of diseases affecting humans has revolutionized the discovery and development of drugs targeting inflammation and oncology. Novel therapeutic approaches to modulate disease by regulating apoptosis are currently being tested in preclinical and clinical settings. Enthusiasm for some of these therapies is reflected in the fact that they have received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval in record time. Approaches include the traditional use of small molecules to target specific players in the apoptosis cascade. They also include radical new approaches such as using antisense molecules to inhibit production of the Bcl-2 protein or antibodies that ligate either death receptors, such as TRAIL (tumour necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand), or the MHC (HLA-DR), resulting in the initiation of apoptosis of target cells. Antibodies targeting cell-specific antigens are being used in conjunction with radioactive isotopes to deliver a more specific chemotherapy, particularly in the case of B-cell lymphomas. Other therapies target mitochondria, a key organelle in the apoptosis cascade. This diverse range of therapies includes photodynamic therapy, retinoic acid and arsenic trioxide, all of which induce apoptosis by generating reactive oxygen species. As our understanding of apoptosis increases, further opportunities will arise for tailor-made therapies that will result in improved clinical outcome without the devastating side effects of current interventions.
- © 2003 The Biochemical Society