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Drugs. 1991 Dec;42(6):919-44.

Bisphosphonates. Pharmacology and use in the treatment of tumour-induced hypercalcaemic and metastatic bone disease.

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Department of Pathophysiology, University of Berne, Switzerland.


The geminal bisphosphonates are a new class of drugs characterised by a P-C-P bond. Consequently, they are analogues of pyrophosphate, but are resistant to chemical and enzymatic hydrolysis. The bisphosphonates bind strongly to hydroxyapatite crystals and inhibit their formation and dissolution. This physicochemical effect leads in vivo to the prevention of soft tissue calcification and, in some instances, inhibition of normal calcification. The main effect is to inhibit bone resorption, but in contrast to the effect on mineralisation, the mechanism involved is cellular. These various effects vary greatly according to the structure of the individual bisphosphonate. The half-life of circulating bisphosphonates is very brief, in the order of minutes to hours. 20% to 50% of a given dose is taken up by the skeleton, the rest being excreted in the urine. The half-life in bone is far longer and depends upon the turnover rate of the skeleton itself. Bisphosphonates are very well tolerated; the relatively few adverse events that have been associated with their use are specific for each compound. Bisphosphonates have been used to treat various clinical conditions, namely ectopic calcification, ectopic bone formation, Paget's disease, osteoporosis and increased osteolysis of malignant origin. The three compounds commercially available for use in tumour-induced bone disease are in order of increasing potency, etidronate, clodronate and pamidronate. Most data have been obtained with the latter two agents. By inhibiting bone resorption, they correct hypercalcaemia and hypercalciuria, reduce pain, the occurrence of fractures, as well as the development of new osteolytic lesions, and in consequence improve the quality of life. In view of these actions, of their excellent tolerability and of the fact that they are active for relatively long periods, these compounds are, after rehydration, the drugs of choice in tumour-induced bone disease and an excellent auxiliary to the drugs used in oncology.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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