Cancer biology & therapy

Pre-clinical activity of PR-104 as monotherapy and in combination with sorafenib in hepatocellular carcinoma.

PMID 25869917


PR-104 is a clinical stage bioreductive prodrug that is converted in vivo to its cognate alcohol, PR-104A. This dinitrobenzamide mustard is reduced to activated DNA cross-linking metabolites (hydroxylamine PR-104H and amine PR-104M) under hypoxia by one-electron reductases and independently of hypoxia by the 2-electron reductase aldo-keto reductase 1C3 (AKR1C3). High expression of AKR1C3, along with extensive hypoxia, suggested the potential of PR-104 for treatment of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). However, a phase IB trial with sorafenib demonstrated significant toxicity that was ascribed in part to reduced PR-104A clearance, likely reflecting compromised glucuronidation in patients with advanced HCC. Here, we evaluate the activity of PR-104 in HCC xenografts (HepG2, PLC/PRF/5, SNU-398, Hep3B) in mice, which do not significantly glucuronidate PR-104A. Cell line differences in sensitivity to PR-104A in vitro under aerobic conditions could be accounted for by differences in both expression of AKR1C3 (high in HepG2 and PLC/PRF/5) and sensitivity to the major active metabolite PR-104H, to which PLC/PRF/5 was relatively resistant, while hypoxic selectivity of PR-104A cytotoxicity and reductive metabolism was greatest in the low-AKR1C3 SNU-398 and Hep3B lines. Expression of AKR1C3 in HepG2 and PLC/PRF/5 xenografts was in the range seen in 21 human HCC specimens. PR-104 monotherapy elicited significant reductions in growth of Hep3B and HepG2 xenografts, and the combination with sorafenib was significantly active in all 4 xenograft models. The results suggest that better-tolerated analogs of PR-104, without a glucuronidation liability, may have the potential to exploit AKR1C3 and/or hypoxia in HCC in humans.