Therapeutic nucleic acids such as pDNA hold great promise for the treatment of multiple diseases. These therapeutic interventions are, however, compromised by the lack of efficient and safe non-viral delivery systems, which guarantee stability during blood circulation together with high transfection efficiency. To provide these desired properties within one system, we propose the use of reactive triblock copolypept(o)ides, which include a stealth-like block for efficient shielding, a hydrophobic block based on reactive disulfides for cross-linking and a cationic block for complexation of pDNA. After the complexation step, bifunctional cross-linkers can be employed to bio-reversibly stabilize derived polyplexes by disulfide bond formation and to introduce endosomolytic moieties at the same time. Cross-linked polyplexes show no aggregation in human blood serum. Upon cellular uptake and cleavage of disulfide bonds, the cross-linkers can interact with the endosomal membrane, leading to lysis and efficient endosomal translocation. In principal, the approach allows for the combination of one polymer with various different cross-linkers and thus enables the fast forward creation of a polyplex library.
Here, we provide a first insight into the potential of this concept and use a screening strategy to identify a lead candidate, which is able to transfect dendritic cells with a model DNA vaccine.