Background: Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of mortality from gynecological malignancies, often undetectable in early stages. The difficulty of detecting the disease in its early stages and the propensity of ovarian cancer cells to develop resistance to known chemotherapeutic treatments dramatically decreases the 5-year survival rate. Chemotherapy with paclitaxel after surgery increases median survival only by 2 to 3 years in stage IV disease highlights the need for more effective drugs. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection is characterized by increased risk of several solid tumors due to its inherent nature of weakening of immune system. Recent observations point to a lower incidence of some cancers in patients treated with protease inhibitor (PI) cocktail treatment known as HAART (Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy).
Results: Here we show that ritonavir, a HIV protease inhibitor effectively induced cell cycle arrest and apoptosis in ovarian cell lines MDH-2774 and SKOV-3 in a dose dependent manner. Over a 3 day period with 20 muM ritonavir resulted in the cell death of over 60% for MDAH-2774 compared with 55% in case of SKOV-3 cell line. Ritonavir caused G1 cell cycle arrest of the ovarian cancer cells, mediated by down modulating levels of RB phosphorylation and depleting the G1 cyclins, cyclin-dependent kinase and increasing their inhibitors as determined by gene profile analysis. Interestingly, the treatment of ritonavir decreased the amount of phosphorylated AKT in a dose-dependent manner. Furthermore, inhibition of AKT by specific siRNA synergistically increased the efficacy of the ritonavir-induced apoptosis. These results indicate that the addition of the AKT inhibitor may increase the therapeutic efficacy of ritonavir.
Conclusion: Our results demonstrate a potential use of ritonavir for ovarian cancer with additive effects in conjunction with conventional chemotherapeutic regimens. Since ritonavir is clinically approved for human use for HIV, drug repositioning for ovarian cancer could accelerate the process of traditional drug development. This would reduce risks, limit the costs and decrease the time needed to bring the drug from bench to bedside.