Prodrugs in medicinal chemistry and enzyme prodrug therapies
Prodrugs are cunning derivatives of therapeutic agents designed to improve the pharmacokinetics profile of the drug. Within a prodrug, pharmacological activity of the drug is masked and is recovered within the human body upon bioconversion of the prodrug, a process that is typically mediated by enzymes. This concept is highly successful and a significant fraction of marketed therapeutic formulations is based on prodrugs. An advanced subset of prodrugs can be engineered such as to achieve site-specific bioconversion of the prodrug – to comprise the highly advantageous “enzyme prodrug therapy”, EPT. Design of prodrugs for EPT is similar to the prodrugs in general medicinal use in that the pharmacological activity of the drug is masked, but differs significantly in that site-specific bioconversion is a prime consideration, and the enzymes typically used for EPT are non-mammalian and/or with low systemic abundance in the human body. This review focuses on the design of prodrugs for EPT in terms of the choice of an enzyme and the corresponding prodrug for bioconversion. We also discuss the recent success of “self immolative linkers” which significantly empower and diversify the prodrug design, and present methodologies for the design of prodrugs with extended blood residence time. The review aims to be of specific interest for medicinal chemists, biomedical engineers, and pharmaceutical scientists.