Many chemotherapy drugs have poor therapeutic activity in regions distant from tumor blood vessels because of poor tissue penetration and low cytotoxic activity against slowly-proliferating cells. The hypoxia-activated pro-drug TH-302 may have selective toxicity for hypoxic and neighboring cells in tumors. Here we characterize the spatial distribution and ability of TH-302 to selectively target hypoxic regions and complement the effect of doxorubicin and docetaxel by modifying biomarker distribution. Athymic nude mice bearing human breast MCF-7 or prostate PC-3 tumors were treated with doxorubicin or docetaxel respectively and TH-302 alone or in combination. Biomarkers of drug effect including γH2aX (a marker of DNA damage), cleaved caspase-3 or -6 (markers of apoptosis) and reduction in Ki-67 (a marker of cell proliferation) were quantified in tumor sections in relation to functional blood vessels (recognized by DiOC7) and hypoxia (recognized by EF5) using immunohistochemistry. γH2aX expression at 10 min and cleaved caspase-3 or -6 at 24 hr after doxorubicin or docetaxel decreased with increasing distance from tumor blood vessels, with minimal expression in hypoxic regions; maximum reduction in Ki67 levels was observed in regions closest to vasculature at 24 hr. TH-302 induced maximal cell damage in hypoxic and neighboring regions, but was also active in tumor regions closer to blood vessels. TH-302 given 4 hr before doxorubicin or docetaxel increased DNA damage and apoptosis throughout the tumor compared to chemotherapy alone. When given with doxorubicin or docetaxel, TH-302 complements and enhances anticancer effects in both perivascular and hypoxic regions but also increases toxicity.What's new?
When tumor cells are far from blood vessels and low on oxygen, they can evade the reach of therapeutic drugs that focus on the most rapidly-dividing cells and rely on the presence of oxygen. A drug that selectively targets hypoxic cells could help. In this paper the authors measured the tissue distribution of a drug, TH-302, which can help enhance the killing ability of some chemotherapeutic drugs. The authors found that administering TH-302 in conjunction with doxorubicin or docetaxel helped spread the drug activity throughout the tumor, to hypoxic regions as well as cells near blood vessels.