mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin) is a serine-threonine kinase belonging to the PI3K/Akt/mTOR signalling pathway that is involved in several cell functions, including growth, proliferation, apoptosis and autophagy. mTOR hyperactivation has been detected in several human cancers, thus representing, together with its upstream effectors, an important target for cancer therapy. mTOR exists in two different complexes in cells, mTORC1 and mTORC2 which could both be targeted by potential anticancer agents. Rapamycin, the selective and allosteric inhibitor of mTOR, inhibits the enzyme in mTORC1, but not in mTORC2. In the last few years a number of mTOR ATP-competitive inhibitors has been reported acting on mTOR in both complexes and possessing a more complete anticancer activity in comparison with that of rapamycin and its derivatives.
mTOR shares high sequence homology in the hinge-region with PI3K that is a lipid kinase upstream to mTOR in the same signalling pathway; for this reason some compounds originally developed as PI3K inhibitors later showed to also target mTOR. As indicated by preclinical and clinical studies, compounds acting on more than one target could result in a better biological response and in enhanced therapeutic potential and also dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitors result of great interest as potential antitumor agents.
This review mainly reports the recently discovered mTOR ATP-competitive inhibitors in terms of medicinal chemistry, classified by their chemical structures, focusing on SAR and modelling studies that led to the discovery of very potent and selective agents, such as AZD- 8055, OSI-027 and INK128, already entered clinical trials, or WYE-132, Torin1 and others in preclinical studies. Also some examples of dual PI3K/mTOR inhibitors, including PI-103, GNE477, WJD008 and GSK2126458 are reported together with their biological and clinical data.