Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) contributes to several pathological processes and is therefore a popular target in the research and development of therapies for certain illnesses.
The overexpression of VEGF is a contributing factor to the development of disease. For example, solid tumors require an increased blood supply if they are to continue growing beyond a certain size and tumors that express VEGF are able to do this because VEGF stimulates the formation of new blood vessels, a process referred to as angiogenesis.
Cancers that express VEGF are therefore able to grow and spread (metastasize) to other organs and regions of the body. Expression of this protein has been associated with a poor outcome in breast cancer, with a decreased survival rate observed among individuals with tumors that express VEGF.
VEGF plays a role in the development of diabetic retinopathy and the wet form of age-related macular degeneration. Anit-VEGF therapy is also therefore important in the treatment of these conditions.
Since cancer growth is stimulated by VEGF, researchers have made numerous attempts to decrease its expression and prevent angiogenesis and tumor growth. If the blood supply is reduced, the tumor is literally starved to death. Two of the most well known drugs that have been successful at slowing the progression of disease stimulated by VEGF are monoclonal antibodies bevacizumab (Avastin) and ranibizumab (Lucentis).
Some other examples of anti-VEGF agents include:
- Lapatinib (Tykerb)
- Sorafenib (Nexavar)
- Sunitinib (Sutent)
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc