This paper describes the laboratory discovery and clinical testing of the first nonsteroidal antiestrogen, MER-25 (ethamoxytriphetol). The compound blocks estrogen action in all species tested and has only slight but transient estrogenic effects. No other antisteroidal actions are noted. MER-25 is antiestrogenic in primates and was investigated in the clinics in a wide range of gynecological conditions, including breast and endometrial cancer. Unfortunately toxic side effects (hallucinations, etc.) precluded further investigation. A derivative of triphenylethylene, clomiphene, has some partial agonist (estrogen-like) actions in laboratory animals and following clinical evaluation is now an established agent for the induction of ovulation in subfertile women. Although clomiphene is active in advanced breast cancer, it was not developed further. In the late 1960s a related compound, tamoxifen, was evaluated to treat a number of estrogen-responsive disorders but was successfully introduced in the 1970s for the treatment of advanced breast cancer. Although there was only modest initial interest in the palliative use of tamoxifen, an enormous increase in basic and applied studies with antiestrogens resulted in a definition of the target site-specific and tumoristatic actions of tamoxifen. Close cooperation between laboratory and clinical evaluation has guided the subsequent development of tamoxifen which is now available to treat all stages of breast cancer. Long-term adjuvant tamoxifen therapy, a concept developed in the laboratory, is currently the treatment strategy of choice. The considerable success of tamoxifen has focused attention on new antiestrogens with different pharmacological properties for other potential clinical applications.


Presented at the 80th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, May 24, 1989, San Francisco, CA.

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