A novel controlled release formulation of the Pin1 inhibitor ATRA to improve liver cancer therapy by simultaneously blocking multiple cancer pathways

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Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide largely due to lack of effective targeted drugs to simultaneously block multiple cancer-driving pathways. The identification of all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA) as a potent Pin1 inhibitor provides a promising candidate for HCC targeted therapy because Pin1 is overexpressed in most HCC and activates numerous cancer-driving pathways. However, the efficacy of ATRA against solid tumors is limited due to its short half-life of 45 min in humans. A slow-releasing ATRA formulation inhibits solid tumors such as HCC, but can be used only in animals. Here, we developed a one-step, cost-effective route to produce a novel biocompatible, biodegradable, and non-toxic controlled release formulation of ATRA for effective HCC therapy. We used supercritical carbon dioxide process to encapsulate ATRA in largely uniform poly L-lactic acid (PLLA) microparticles, with the efficiency of 91.4% and yield of 68.3%, and ˜ 4-fold higher Cmax and AUC over the slow-releasing ATRA formulation. ATRA-PLLA microparticles had good biocompatibility, and significantly enhanced the inhibitory potency of ATRA on HCC cell growth, improving IC50 by over 3-fold. ATRA-PLLA microparticles exerted its efficacy likely through degrading Pin1 and inhibiting multiple Pin1-regulated cancer pathways and cell cycle progression. Indeed, Pin1 knock-down abolished ATRA inhibitory effects on HCC cells and ATRA-PLLA did not inhibit normal liver cells, as expected because ATRA selectively inhibits active Pin1 in cancer cells. Moreover ATRA-PLLA microparticles significantly enhanced the efficacy of ATRA against HCC tumor growth in mice through reducing Pin1, with a better potency than the slow-releasing ATRA formulation, consistent with its improved pharmacokinetic profiles. This study illustrates an effective platform to produce controlled release formulation of anti-cancer drugs, and ATRA-PLLA microparticles might be a promising targeted drug for HCC therapy as PLLA is biocompatible, biodegradable and nontoxic to humans.Graphical abstract

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