Developments in Carbohydrate-Based Cancer Therapeutics

Pharmaceuticals (Basel). 2019 Jun 4;12(2):84. doi: 10.3390/ph12020084.


Cancer cells of diverse origins express extracellular tumor-specific carbohydrate antigens (TACAs) because of aberrant glycosylation. Overexpressed TACAs on the surface of tumor cells are considered biomarkers for cancer detection and have always been prioritized for the development of novel carbohydrate-based anti-cancer vaccines. In recent years, progress has been made in developing synthetic, carbohydrate-based antitumor vaccines to improve immune responses associated with targeting these specific antigens. Tumor cells also exhaust more energy for proliferation than normal cells, by consuming excessive amounts of glucose via overexpressed sugar binding or transporting receptors located in the cellular membrane. Furthermore, inspired by the Warburg effect, glycoconjugation strategies of anticancer drugs have gained considerable attention from the scientific community. This review highlights a small cohort of recent efforts which have been made in carbohydrate-based cancer treatments, including vaccine design and the development of glycoconjugate prodrugs, glycosidase inhibiting iminosugars, and early cancer diagnosis.

Keywords: cancer diagnosis; cancer treatment; carbohydrate antigens; carbohydrate-based antitumor vaccines; iminosugar; warburg effect.

Publication types

  • Review