The ability of tumors to escape from immune destruction is attributed to the protein-protein interaction between programmed cell death protein 1 (PD1) and programmed cell death ligand 1 (PDL1) proteins expressed by immune T cells and cancer cells, respectively. Therefore, pharmacological inhibition of the PD1-PDL1 interaction presents an important therapeutic target against a variety of tumors expressing PDL1 on their cell surface. Recently, five antibodies have been approved and several are in clinical trials against the PD1-PDL1 protein-protein interaction target. In contrast, there are very few reports of small-molecule inhibitors of PD1-PDL1 interaction, and most of them have relatively modest or weak inhibition activities, emphasizing the difficulty in designing small-molecule inhibitors against this challenging target. Therefore, we focused our attention on macrocycles that are known to exhibit target activity comparable to large macromolecules despite having molecular weights closer to small, drug-like molecules. In this context, our present study led to the identification of several macrocyclic compounds from the ansamycin antibiotics class to be inhibitors of PD1-PDL1 interaction. Importantly, one of these macrocyclic antibiotics, Rifabutin, showed an IC50 value of ca. 25 µM. This is remarkable considering it has a relatively low molecular weight and still is capable of inhibiting PD1-PDL1 protein-protein interaction whose binding interface spans over ca. 1970 Å2. Thus, these macrocycles may serve as guiding points for discovery and optimization of more potent, selective small-molecule inhibitors of PD1-PDL1 interaction, one of the most promising therapeutic targets against cancer.
Keywords: ansamycin antibiotics; anticancer; immunotherapy; macrocycle; programmed cell death ligand 1 (PDL1); programmed cell death protein 1 (PD1).