Cell penetrating peptides fused to a thermally targeted biopolymer drug carrier improve the delivery and antitumor efficacy of an acid-sensitive doxorubicin derivative

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Elastin-like polypeptide (ELP) is a macromolecular carrier with thermally responsive properties that can passively accumulate in solid tumors and additionally aggregate in tumor tissue when exposed to hyperthermia. In this study, ELP was conjugated to the anticancer drug doxorubicin (DOXO) and three different cell penetrating peptides (CPP) in order to inhibit tumor growth in mice compared to free doxorubicin. Fluorescence microscopy studies in MCF-7 breast carcinoma cells demonstrated that the three different CPP–ELP–DOXO conjugates delivered doxorubicin to the cell nucleus. All CPP–ELP–DOXO conjugates showed cytotoxicity with IC50 values in the range of 12–30 μM at 42 °C, but the ELP carrier with SynB1 as the cell penetrating peptide had the lowest intrinsic cytotoxicity. Therefore, the antitumor efficacy of SynB1–ELP–DOXO was compared to doxorubicin under hyperthermic conditions. C57BL/6 female mice bearing syngeneic E0771 murine breast tumors were treated with either free doxorubicin or the SynB1–ELP–DOXO conjugate with or without focused hyperthermia on the tumor. Under hyperthermic conditions, tumor inhibition with SynB1–ELP–DOXO was 2-fold higher than under therapy with free doxorubicin at the equivalent dose, and is thus a promising lead candidate for optimizing thermally responsive drug polymer conjugates.

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