While STAT3 has been validated as a target for treatment of many cancers, including head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), a STAT3 inhibitor is yet to enter the clinic. We used the scaffold of C188, a small-molecule STAT3 inhibitor previously identified by us, in a hit-to-lead program to identify C188-9. C188-9 binds to STAT3 with high affinity and represents a substantial improvement over C188 in its ability to inhibit STAT3 binding to its pY-peptide ligand, to inhibit cytokine-stimulated pSTAT3, to reduce constitutive pSTAT3 activity in multiple HNSCC cell lines, and to inhibit anchorage dependent and independent growth of these cells. In addition, treatment of nude mice bearing xenografts of UM-SCC-17B, a radioresistant HNSCC line, with C188-9, but not C188, prevented tumor xenograft growth. C188-9 treatment modulated many STAT3-regulated genes involved in oncogenesis and radioresistance, as well as radioresistance genes regulated by STAT1, due to its potent activity against STAT1, in addition to STAT3. C188-9 was well tolerated in mice, showed good oral bioavailability, and was concentrated in tumors. Thus, C188-9, either alone or in combination with radiotherapy, has potential for use in treating HNSCC tumors that demonstrate increased STAT3 and/or STAT1 activation.
Keywords: C188-9; HNSCC; STAT3; cancer; small molecule.