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Acc Chem Res. 2008 Jan;41(1):108-19. Epub 2007 Jul 31.

Guided molecular missiles for tumor-targeting chemotherapy--case studies using the second-generation taxoids as warheads.

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  • 1Institute of Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery and Department of Chemistry, State University of New York at Stony Brook, Stony Brook, New York 11794-3400, USA.


A long-standing problem in cancer chemotherapy is the lack of tumor-specific treatments. Traditional chemotherapy relies on the premise that rapidly proliferating cancer cells are more likely to be killed by a cytotoxic agent. In reality, however, cytotoxic agents have very little or no specificity, which leads to systemic toxicity, causing undesirable severe side effects. Therefore, the development of innovative and efficacious tumor-specific drug delivery protocols or systems is urgently needed. A rapidly growing tumor requires various nutrients and vitamins. Thus, tumor cells overexpress many tumor-specific receptors, which can be used as targets to deliver cytotoxic agents into tumors. This Account presents our research program on the discovery and development of novel and efficient drug delivery systems, possessing tumor-targeting ability and efficacy against various cancer types, especially multidrug-resistant tumors. In general, a tumor-targeting drug delivery system consists of a tumor recognition moiety and a cytotoxic warhead connected directly or through a suitable linker to form a conjugate. The conjugate, which can be regarded as a "guided molecular missile", should be systemically nontoxic, that is, the linker must be stable in blood circulation, but upon internalization into the cancer cell, the conjugate should be readily cleaved to regenerate the active cytotoxic warhead. These novel "guided molecular missiles" are conjugates of the highly potent second-generation taxoid anticancer agents with tumor-targeting molecules through mechanism-based cleavable linkers. These conjugates are specifically delivered to tumors and internalized into tumor cells, and the potent taxoid anticancer agents are released from the linker into the cytoplasm. We have successfully used omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, in particular DHA, and monoclonal antibodies (for EGFR) as tumor-targeting molecules for the conjugates, which exhibited remarkable efficacy against human tumor xenografts in animal models. We have developed self-immolative disulfide linkers wherein the glutathione-triggered cascade drug release takes place to generate the original anticancer agent. The use of disulfide linkers is attractive beacuse it takes into account the fact that the concentration of glutathione is much higher (>1000 times) in tumor cells than in blood plasma. In order to monitor and elucidate the mechanism of tumor-targeting, internalization, and drug release, several fluorescent and fluorogenic probes using biotin as the tumor-targeting module were developed and used. Then, the progressive occurrence of the designed receptor-mediated endocytosis, drug release, and drug binding to the target protein (microtubules) has been successfully observed and confirmed by means of confocal fluorescence microscopy. These "guided molecular missiles" provide bright prospects for the development of highly efficacious new generation drugs for cancer chemotherapy.

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