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Biocompatible Chemotherapy for Leukemia by Acid-Cleavable, PEGylated FTY720.


Targeting the inability of cancerous cells to adapt to metabolic stress is a promising alternative to conventional cancer chemotherapy. FTY720 (Gilenya), an FDA-approved drug for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, has recently been shown to inhibit cancer progression through the down-regulation of essential nutrient transport proteins, selectively starving cancer cells to death. However, the clinical use of FTY720 for cancer therapy is prohibited because of its capability of inducing immunosuppression (lymphopenia) and bradycardia when phosphorylated upon administration. A prodrug to specifically prevent phosphorylation during circulation, hence avoiding bradycardia and lymphopenia, was synthesized by capping its hydroxyl groups with polyethylene glycol (PEG) via an acid-cleavable ketal linkage. Improved aqueous solubility was also accomplished by PEGylation. The prodrug reduces to fully potent FTY720 upon cellular uptake and induces metabolic stress in cancer cells. Enhanced release of FTY720 at a mildly acidic endosomal pH and the ability to substantially down-regulate cell-surface nutrient transporter proteins in leukemia cells only by an acid-cleaved drug were confirmed. Importantly, the prodrug demonstrated nearly identical efficacy to FTY720 in an animal model of BCR-Abl-driven leukemia without inducing bradycardia or lymphopenia in vivo, highlighting its potential clinical value. The prodrug formulation of FTY720 demonstrates the utility of precisely engineering a drug to avoid undesirable effects by tackling specific molecular mechanisms as well as a financially favorable alternative to new drug development. A multitude of existing cancer therapeutics may be explored for prodrug formulation to avoid specific side effects and preserve or enhance therapeutic efficacy.

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