Gefitinib inhibits the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) tyrosine kinase by binding to the adenosine triphosphate (ATP)-binding site of the enzyme. Thus the function of the EGFR tyrosine kinase in activating the Ras signal transduction cascade is inhibited; and malignant cells are inhibited. Gefitinib is the first selective inhibitor of the EGFR tyrosine kinase which is also referred to as Her1 or ErbB-1. EGFR is overexpressed in the cells of certain types of human carcinomas - for example in lung and breast cancers. Overexpression leads to inappropriate activation of the apoptotic Ras signal transduction cascade, eventually leading to uncontrolled cell proliferation.
Gefitinib inhibits the intracellular phosphorylation of numerous tyrosine kinases associated with transmembrane cell surface receptors, including the tyrosine kinases associated with the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR-TK). EGFR is expressed on the cell surface of many normal cells and cancer cells.
Primarily hepatic via CYP3A4. Three sites of biotransformation have been identified: metabolism of the N-propoxymorpholino-group, demethylation of the methoxy-substituent on the quinazoline, and oxidative defluorination of the halogenated phenyl group.
The acute toxicity of gefitinib up to 500 mg in clinical studies has been low. In non-clinical studies, a single dose of 12, 000 mg/m2 (about 80 times the recommended clinical dose on a mg/m2 basis) was lethal to rats. Half this dose caused no mortality in mice. Symptoms of overdose include diarrhea and skin rash.