We recently identified a class of pyridyl aniline thiazoles (PAT) that displayed selective cytotoxicity for von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) deficient renal cell carcinoma (RCC) cells in vitro and in vivo. Structure-activity relationship (SAR) studies were used to develop a comparative molecular field analysis (CoMFA) model that related VHL-selective potency to the three-dimensional arrangement of chemical features of the chemotype. We now report the further molecular alignment-guided exploration of the chemotype to discover potent and selective PAT analogues. The contribution of the central thiazole ring was explored using a series of five- and six-membered ring heterocyclic replacements to vary the electronic and steric interactions in the central unit. We also explored a positive steric CoMFA contour adjacent to the pyridyl ring using Pd-catalysed cross-coupling Suzuki-Miyaura, Sonogashira and nucleophilic displacement reactions to prepare of a series of aryl-, alkynyl-, alkoxy- and alkylamino-substituted pyridines, respectively. In vitro potency and selectivity were determined using paired RCC cell lines: the VHL-null cell line RCC4 and the VHL-positive cell line RCC4-VHL. Active analogues selectively induced autophagy in RCC4 cells. We have used the new SAR data to further develop the CoMFA model, and compared this to a 2D-QSAR method. Our progress towards realising the therapeutic potential of this chemotype as a targeted cytotoxic therapy for the treatment of RCC by exploiting the absence of the VHL tumour suppressor gene is reported.
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