Background: The aim of this study was to assess the feasibility of administering bizelesin, a cyclopropylpyrroloindole with extraordinarily high potency as a bifunctional DNA-damaging agent and selectivity for specific AT-rich DNA sequences, as a single i.v. bolus injection every 4 weeks in patients with advanced solid malignancies. The study also sought to determine the maximum tolerated dose (MTD) of bizelesin, characterize its pharmacokinetic behavior, and seek preliminary evidence of anticancer activity.
Patients and methods: Patients with advanced solid malignancies were treated with escalating doses of bizelesin as an i.v. bolus injection every 4 weeks. The selection of the specific starting dose, 0.1 micro g/m(2), which was equivalent to one-tenth the toxic dose low in dogs, factored in large interspecies differences in myelotoxicity as gauged using an ex vivo hematopoietic colony-forming assay. Due to concerns about the high potency of bizelesin and the large interspecies differences in toxicity, a conservative dose-escalation scheme was used for dose-level assignment to determine the MTD levels for both minimally pretreated (MP) and heavily pretreated (HP) patients. A variety of analytical assays were assessed to reliably measure bizelesin concentrations in plasma.
Results: Sixty-two patients were treated with 185 courses of bizelesin at eight dose levels ranging from 0.1 to 1.5 micro g/m(2). Myelosuppression, principally neutropenia that was always brief, was the most common toxicity observed. Thrombocytopenia and anemia were uncommon and severe non-hematological effects were not observed. Severe neutropenia alone and/or associated with fever was consistently experienced by HP and MP patients at doses exceeding 0.71 and 1.26 micro g/m(2), respectively. These doses also resulted in functionally non-cumulative myelosuppression as repetitive treatment was well-tolerated. A 40% reduction in measurable disease lasting 24 months was noted in a patient with advanced ovarian carcinoma. Various analytical methods were evaluated but none demonstrated the requisite sensitivity to reliably quantify the minute plasma concentrations of bizelesin and metabolites resulting from administering microgram quantities of drug.
Conclusions: The highly potent and unique cytotoxic agent, bizelesin can be feasibly administered to patients with advanced solid malignancies. The recommended doses for phase II studies of bizelesin as a bolus i.v. injection every 4 weeks are 0.71 and 1.26 micro g/m(2) in HP and MP patients, respectively. The characteristics of the myelosuppression, the paucity of severe toxicities with repetitive treatment, the preliminary antitumor activity noted, and, above all, its unique mechanism of action as a selective DNA-damaging agent and high potency, warrant disease-directed evaluations of bizelesin in solid and hematopoietic malignancies and consideration of its use as a cytotoxic in targeted conjugated therapeutics.