Background: There is a need for drug delivery systems (DDS) that can enhance cytosolic delivery of anti-cancer drugs trapped in the endo-lysosomal compartments. Exposure of cells to specific photosensitizers followed by light exposure (photochemical internalization, PCI) results in transfer of agents from the endocytic compartment into the cytosol.
Methodology and principal findings: The recombinant single-chain fusion construct scFvMEL/rGel is composed of an antibody targeting the progenitor marker HMW-MAA/NG2/MGP/gp240 and the highly effective toxin gelonin (rGel). Here we demonstrate enhanced tumor cell selectivity, cytosolic delivery and anti-tumor activity by applying PCI of scFvMEL/rGel. PCI performed by light activation of cells co-incubated with scFvMEL/rGel and the endo-lysosomal targeting photosensitizers AlPcS(2a) or TPPS(2a) resulted in enhanced cytotoxic effects against antigen-positive cell lines, while no differences in cytotoxicity between the scFvMEL/rGel and rGel were observed in antigen-negative cells. Mice bearing well-developed melanoma (A-375) xenografts (50-100 mm(3)) were treated with PCI of scFvMEL/rGel. By 30 days after injection, approximately 100% of mice in the control groups had tumors>800 mm(3). In contrast, by day 40, 50% of mice in the PCI of scFvMEL/rGel combination group had tumors<800 mm(3) with no increase in tumor size up to 110 days. PCI of scFvMEL/rGel resulted in a synergistic effect (p<0.05) and complete regression (CR) in 33% of tumor-bearing mice (n = 12).
Conclusions/significance: This is a unique demonstration that a non-invasive multi-modality approach combining a recombinant, targeted therapeutic such as scFvMEL/rGel and PCI act in concert to provide potent in vivo efficacy without sacrificing selectivity or enhancing toxicity. The present DDS warrants further evaluation of its clinical potential.