5,6-dimethylxanthenone-4-acetic acid (DMXAA): a new biological response modifier for cancer therapy

Invest New Drugs. 2002 Aug;20(3):281-95. doi: 10.1023/a:1016215015530.


The investigational anti-cancer drug 5,6-dimethylxanthenone-4-acetic acid (DMXAA) was developed by the Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre (ACSRC). It has recently completed Phase I trials in New Zealand and UK under the direction of the Cancer Research Campaign's Phase I/II Clinical Trials Committee. As a biological response modifier, pharmacological and toxicological properties of DMXAA are remarkably different from most conventional chemotherapeutic agents. Induction of cytokines (particularly tumour necrosis factor (TNF-alpha), serotonin and nitric oxide (NO)), anti-vascular and anti-angiogenic effects are considered to be major mechanisms of action based on in vitro and animal studies. In cancer patients of Phase I study, DMXAA also exhibited various biological effects, including induction of TNF-alpha, serotonin and NO, which are consistent with those effects observed in in vitro and animal studies. Preclinical studies indicated that DMXAA had more potent anti-tumour activity compared to flavone-8-acetic acid (FAA). In contrast to FAA that did not show anti-tumour activity in cancer patients, DMXAA (22 mg/kg by intravenous infusion over 20 min) resulted in partial response in one patient with metastatic cervical squamous carcinoma in a Phase I study where 65 cancer patients were enrolled in New Zealand. The maximum tolerated dose (MTD) in mouse, rabbit, rat and human was 30, 99, 330, and 99 mg/kg respectively. The dose-limiting toxicity of DMXAA in cancer patients included acute reversible tremor, cognitive impairment, visual disturbance, dyspnoea and anxiety. The plasma protein binding and distribution into blood cells of DMXAA are dependent on species and drug concentration. DMXAA is extensively metabolised, mainly by glucuronidation of its acetic acid side chain and 6-methylhydroxylation, giving rise to DMXAA acyl glucuronide (DMXAA-G), and 6-hydroxymethyl-5-methylxanthenone-4-acetic acid (6-OH-MXAA), which are excreted into bile and urine. DMXAA-G has been shown to be chemically reactive, undergoing hydrolysis, intramolecular migration and covalent binding. Studies have indicated that DMXAA glucuronidation is catalysed by uridine diphosphate glucuronosyltransferases (UGT1A9 and UGT2B7), and 6-methylhydroxylation by cytochrome P450 (CYP1A2). Non-linear plasma pharmacokinetics of DMXAA has been observed in animals and patients, presumably due to saturation of the elimination process and plasma protein binding. Species differences in DMXAA plasma pharmacokinetics have been observed, with the rabbit having the greatest plasma clearance, followed by the human, rat and mouse. In vivo disposition studies in these species did not provide an explanation for the differences in MTD. Co-administration of DMXAA with other drugs has been shown to result in enhanced anti-tumour activity and alterations in pharmacokinetics, as reported for the combination of DMXAA with melphalan, thalidomide, cyproheptadine, and the bioreductive agent tirapazamine, in mouse models. Species-dependent DMXAA-thalidomide pharmacokinetic interactions have been observed. Co-administration of thalidomide significantly increased the plasma area of the plasma concentration-time curve (AUC) of DMXAA in mice, but had no effect on DMXAA's pharmacokinetics in the rat. It appears that the pharmacological and toxicological properties of DMXAA as a new biological response modifier are unlikely to be predicted based on preclinical studies. Similar to many biological response modifiers, DMXAA alone did not show striking anti-tumour activity in patients. However, preclinical studies of DMXAA-drug combinations indicate that DMXAA may have a potential role in cancer treatment when co-administered with other drugs. Further studies are required to explore the molecular targets of DMXAA and mechanisms for the interactions with other drugs co-administered during combination treatment, which may allow for the optimisation of DMXAA-based chemotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Drug Interactions
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / pharmacology*
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / pathology
  • Xanthenes / adverse effects
  • Xanthenes / pharmacokinetics
  • Xanthenes / pharmacology*
  • Xanthenes / therapeutic use
  • Xanthones*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Immunologic Factors
  • Xanthenes
  • Xanthones
  • vadimezan