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Drugs. 1999 Mar;57(3):293-308.

Chemoprotectants: a review of their clinical pharmacology and therapeutic efficacy.

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Department of Medical Oncology, Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, New South Wales, Australia.


Dose-limiting toxicity secondary to antineoplastic chemotherapy is due to the inability of cytotoxic drugs to differentiate between normal and malignant cells. The consequences of this may include impairment of patient quality of life, because of toxicity, and reduced tumour control because of the inability to deliver adequate dose-intensive therapy against the cancer. Specific examples of toxicity against normal tissues include cisplatin-related neurotoxicity and nephrotoxicity, myelotoxicity secondary to treatment with alkylating agents and carboplatin, oxazaphosphorine-induced haemorrhagic cystitis, and cumulative dose-related cardiac toxicity secondary to anthracycline treatment. Chemoprotectants have been developed as a means of ameliorating the toxicity associated with cytotoxic agents by providing site-specific protection for normal tissues, without compromising antitumour efficacy. Clinical trials with toxicity protectors must include sufficient dose-limiting events for study, and assessment of both toxicity (allowing for measurement of efficacy of protection) and antitumour effect. Several chemoprotective compounds have now been extensively investigated, including dexrazoxane, amifostine, glutathione, mesna and ORG 2766. Dexrazoxane appears to complex with metal co-factors including iron, to reduce the incidence of anthracycline-induced cardiotoxicity, allowing the delivery of higher cumulative doses of anthracyclines without the expected consequence of cardiomyopathy. Numerous studies have demonstrated that sulfur-containing nucleophiles, including amifostine, glutathione, and mesna can specifically bind cisplatin- or alkylating agent-generated free radicals or alkylating agent metabolites to reduce the incidence of cisplatin-associated neurotoxicity and nephrotoxicity, or alkylating agent-associated myelosuppression and urothelial toxicity. These studies, in the majority of instances, have not revealed any evidence of reduction in antitumour efficacy. Further randomised trials are required to identify the optimal role of chemoprotectants when used alone or in combination with other toxicity modifiers including haemopoietic growth factors.

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