Synthesis and Antitumor Properties of BQC-Glucuronide, a Camptothecin Prodrug for Selective Tumor Activation

Major limitations of camptothecin anticancer drugs (toxicity, nonselectivity, water insolubility, inactivation by human serum albumin) may be improved by creating glucuronide prodrugs that rely on beta-glucuronidase for their activation. We found that the camptothecin derivative 5,6-dihydro-4H-benzo­[de]­quinoline-camptothecin (BQC) displays greater cytotoxicity against cancer cells than the clinically used camptothecin derivatives SN-38 and topotecan even in the presence of human serum albumin. We synthesized the prodrug BQC-glucuronide (BQC-G), which was 4000 times more water soluble and 20–40 times less cytotoxic than BQC. Importantly, even in the presence of human serum albumin, BQC-G was efficiently hydrolyzed by beta-glucuronidase and produced greater cytotoxicity (IC50 = 13 nM) than camptothecin, 9-aminocamptothecin, SN-38, or topotecan (IC50 > 3000, 1370, 48, and 28 nM, respectively). BQC-G treatment of mice bearing human colon cancer xenografts with naturally or artificially elevated beta-glucuronidase activity produced significant antitumor activity, showing that BQC-G is a potent prodrug suitable for selective intratumoral drug activation.