A major challenge in cancer chemotherapy is the selective delivery of small molecule anti-cancer agents to tumor cells. Water-soluble polymer-drug conjugates exhibit good water solubility, increased halflife, and potent anti-tumor effects. By localizing the drug at the desired site of action, macromolecular therapeutics have improved efficacy and enhanced safety at lower doses. Since small molecule drugs and macromolecular drugs enter cells by different pathways, multi-drug resistance (MDR) can be minimized. Anticancer polymer-drug conjugates can be divided into two targeting modalities: passive and active. Tumor tissues have anatomic characteristics that differ from normal tissues. Macromolecules penetrate and accumulate preferentially in tumors relative to normal tissues, leading to extended pharmacological effects. This “enhanced permeability and retention” (EPR) effect is the principal reason for current successes with macromolecular anti-cancer drugs. Both natural and synthetic polymers have been used as drug carriers, and several bioconjugates have been clinically approved or are in human clinical trials. While clinically useful anti-tumor activity has been achieved using passive macromolecular drug delivery systems, further selectivity is possible by active targeting. Attachment of targeting moieties to the polymer backbone can further exploit differences between cancer and normal cells through selective receptor-mediated endocytosis. This strategy would augment the EPR effect, thereby further improving the therapeutic index of the macromolecular drug. This review discusses the development and therapeutic potential of prototype macromolecular drugs for use in cancer chemotherapy. Specific examples are selected to illustrate the basic design principles for soluble polymeric drug delivery systems.
Keywords: polymeric drugs, cancer chemotherapy, multi-drug resistance, enhanced permeability and retention, macromolecular chemotherapeutics, increase biocompatibility, camptothecin, immunoconjugates, protein carriers
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