• Breaking the selectivity-uptake trade-off of photoimmunoconjugates with nanoliposomal irinotecan for synergistic multi-tier cancer targeting

      Liang, B.J.; Pigula, M.; Huang, H.-C. (BioMed Central Ltd., 2020)
      Background: Photoimmunotherapy involves targeted delivery of photosensitizers via an antibody conjugate (i.e., photoimmunoconjugate, PIC) followed by light activation for selective tumor killing. The trade-off between PIC selectivity and PIC uptake is a major drawback limiting the efficacy of photoimmunotherapy. Despite ample evidence showing that photoimmunotherapy is most effective when combined with chemotherapy, the design of nanocarriers to co-deliver PICs and chemotherapy drugs remains an unmet need. To overcome these challenges, we developed a novel photoimmunoconjugate-nanoliposome (PIC-Nal) comprising of three clinically used agents: anti-epidermal growth factor receptor (anti-EGFR) monoclonal antibody cetuximab (Cet), benzoporphyrin derivative (BPD) photosensitizer, and irinotecan (IRI) chemotherapy. Results: The BPD photosensitizers were first tethered to Cet at a molar ratio of 6:1 using carbodiimide chemistry to form PICs. Conjugation of PICs onto nanoliposome irinotecan (Nal–IRI) was facilitated by copper-free click chemistry, which resulted in monodispersed PIC–Nal–IRI with an average size of 158.8 ± 15.6 nm. PIC–Nal–IRI is highly selective against EGFR-overexpressing epithelial ovarian cancer cells with 2- to 6-fold less accumulation in low EGFR expressing cells. Successful coupling of PIC onto Nal–IRI enhanced PIC uptake and photoimmunotherapy efficacy by up to 30% in OVCAR-5 cells. Furthermore, PIC–Nal–IRI synergistically reduced cancer viability via a unique three-way mechanism (i.e., EGFR downregulation, mitochondrial depolarization, and DNA damage). Conclusion: It is increasingly evident that the most effective therapies for cancer will involve combination treatments that target multiple non-overlapping pathways while minimizing side effects. Nanotechnology combined with photochemistry provides a unique opportunity to simultaneously deliver and activate multiple drugs that target all major regions of a cancer cell—plasma membrane, cytoplasm, and nucleus. PIC–Nal–IRI offers a promising strategy to overcome the selectivity-uptake trade-off, improve photoimmunotherapy efficacy, and enable multi-tier cancer targeting. Controllable drug compartmentalization, easy surface modification, and high clinical relevance collectively make PIC–Nal–IRI extremely valuable and merits further investigations in living animals. Copyright 2020 The Author(s).