Heterobivalent ligands target cell-surface receptor combinations in vivo.

Xu L, Josan JS, Vagner J, Caplan MR, Hruby VJ, Mash EA, Lynch RM, Morse DL, Gillies RJ. 2012. Heterobivalent ligands target cell-surface receptor combinations in vivo. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 109:21295–300. doi:10.1073/pnas.1211762109.

A challenge in tumor targeting is to deliver payloads to cancers while sparing normal tissues. A limited number of antibodies appear to meet this challenge as therapeutics themselves or as drug-antibody conjugates. However, antibodies suffer from their large size, which can lead to unfavorable pharmacokinetics for some therapeutic payloads, and that they are targeted against only a single epitope, which can reduce their selectivity and specificity. Here, we propose an alternative targeting approach based on patterns of cell surface proteins to rationally develop small, synthetic heteromultivalent ligands (htMVLs) that target multiple receptors simultaneously. To gain insight into the multivalent ligand strategy in vivo, we have generated synthetic htMVLs that contain melanocortin (MSH) and cholecystokinin (CCK) pharmacophores that are connected via a fluorescent labeled, rationally designed synthetic linker. These ligands were tested in an experimental animal model containing tumors that expressed only one (control) or both (target) MSH and CCK receptors. After systemic injection of the htMVL in tumor-bearing mice, label was highly retained in tumors that expressed both, compared with one, target receptors. Selectivity was quantified by using ex vivo measurement of Europium-labeled htMVL, which had up to 12-fold higher specificity for dual compared with single receptor expressing cells. This proof-of-principle study provides in vivo evidence that small, rationally designed bivalent htMVLs can be used to selectively target cells that express both, compared with single complimentary cell surface targets. These data open the possibility that specific combinations of targets on tumors can be identified and selectively targeted using htMVLs.