Antagonism in effectiveness of evofosfamide and doxorubicin through intermolecular electron transfer

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Hypoxic cells pose a problem in anticancer chemotherapy, in which often drugs require oxygen as an electron acceptor to bring about the death of actively cycling cells. Bioreductive anticancer drugs, which are selectively activated in the hypoxic regions of tumours through enzymatic one-electron reduction, are being developed for combination with chemotherapy-, radiotherapy- and immunotherapy-containing regimens to kill treatment-resistant hypoxic cells. The most clinically-advanced bioreductive drug, evofosfamide (TH-302), which acts by releasing a DNA-crosslinking mustard, failed to extend overall survival in combination with doxorubicin, a topoisomerase II inhibitor, for advanced soft tissue sarcoma in a pivotal clinical trial. However, the reasons for the lack of additive efficacy with this combination are unknown. Here, we show that the radical anion of evofosfamide undergoes electron transfer to doxorubicin in kinetic competition to fragmentation of the radical anion, thus suppressing the release the cytotoxic mustard. This electron transfer process may account, at least in part, for the lack of overall survival improvement in the recent clinical trial. This study underlines the need to consider both redox and electron transfer chemistry when combining bioreductive prodrugs with other redox-active drugs in cancer treatment.Graphical abstractHighlightsAntagonism between evofosfamide and doxorubicin when used in combination.Radical mechanism possibly underlying failed clinical trial.Need to consider redox chemistry in treatments exploiting drug combinations.

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