The hypoxic tumour microenvironment (hTME), arising from inadequate and chaotic vascularity, can present a major obstacle for the treatment of solid tumours. Hypoxic tumour cells compromise responses to treatment since they can generate resistance to radiotherapy, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. The hTME impairs the delivery of a range of anti‐cancer drugs, creates routes for metastasis and exerts selection pressures for aggressive phenotypes; these changes potentially occur within an immunosuppressed environment. Therapeutic strategies aimed at the hTME include targeting the molecular changes associated with hypoxia. An alternative approach is to exploit the prevailing lack of oxygen as a principle for the selective activation of prodrugs to target cellular components within the hTME. This review focuses on the design concepts and rationale for the use of unidirectional Hypoxia‐Activated Prodrugs (uHAPs) to target the hTME as exemplified by the uHAPs AQ4N and OCT1002. These agents undergo irreversible reduction in a hypoxic environment to active forms that target DNA topoisomerase IIα (TOP2A). This nuclear enzyme is essential for cell division and is a recognised chemotherapeutic target. An activated uHAP interacts with the enzyme‐DNA complex to induce DNA damage, cell cycle arrest and tumour cell death. uHAPs are designed to overcome the shortcomings of conventional HAPs and offer unique pharmacodynamic properties for effective targeting of TOP2A in the hTME. uHAP therapy in combination with standard of care treatments has the potential to enhance outcomes by co‐addressing the therapeutic challenge presented by the hTME.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
SRM gratefully acknowledges support by a prostate cancer UK research grant (PG12‐02) for foundation studies on OCT1002.
© 2022 The Authors. IUBMB Life published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.
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