BACKGROUND: The European NCI compounds programme, a joint initiative of the EORTC Research Branch, Cancer Research Campaign and the US National Cancer Institute, was initiated in 1993. The objective was to help the NCI in reducing the backlog of in vivo testing of potential anticancer compounds, synthesised in Europe that emerged from the NCI in vitro 60-cell screen.
METHODS: Over a period of more than twenty years the EORTC-Cancer Research Campaign panel reviewed ∼2000 compounds of which 95 were selected for further evaluation. Selected compounds were stepwise developed with clear go/no go decision points using a pharmacologically directed programme.
RESULTS: This approach eliminated quickly compounds with unsuitable pharmacological properties. A few compounds went into Phase I clinical evaluation. The lessons learned and many of the principles outlined in the paper can easily be applied to current and future drug discovery and development programmes.
CONCLUSIONS: Changes in the review panel, restrictions regarding numbers and types of compounds tested in the NCI in vitro screen and the appearance of targeted agents led to the discontinuation of the European NCI programme in 2017 and its transformation into an academic platform of excellence for anticancer drug discovery and development within the EORTC-PAMM group. This group remains open for advice and collaboration with interested parties in the field of cancer pharmacology.