Anticancer drugs are often nonselective antiproliferative agents (cytotoxins) that preferentially kill dividing cells by attacking their DNA at some level. The lack of selectivity results in significant toxicity to noncancerous proliferating cells. These toxicities along with drug resistance exhibited by the solid tumors are major therapy limiting factors that result into poor prognosis for patients. Prodrug and conjugate design involves the synthesis of inactive drug derivatives that are converted to an active form inside the body and preferably at the site of action. Classical prodrug and conjugate design have focused on the development of prodrugs that can overcome physicochemical (e.g., solubility, chemical instability) or biopharmaceutical problems (e.g., bioavailability, toxicity) associated with common anticancer drugs. The recent targeted prodrug and conjugate design, on the other hand, hinge on the selective delivery of anticancer agents to tumor tissues thereby avoiding their cytotoxic effects on noncancerous cells. Targeting strategies have attempted to take advantage of low extracellular pH, elevated enzymes in tumor tissues, the hypoxic environment inside the tumor core, and tumor-specific antigens expressed on tumor cell surfaces. The present review highlights recent trends in prodrug and conjugate rationale and design for cancer treatment. The various approaches that are currently being explored are critically analyzed and a comparative account of the advantages and disadvantages associated with each approach is presented.
Keywords: Prodrugs, conjugates, targeted design, nanotechnology, anticancer
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