Photodegradation of Bexarotene and Its Implication for Cytotoxicity

Pharmaceutics. 2021 Aug 7;13(8):1220. doi: 10.3390/pharmaceutics13081220.


A detailed understanding of the stability of an active pharmaceutical ingredient and a pharmaceutical dosage form is essential for the drug-development process and for safe and effective use of medicines. Photostability testing as an inherent part of stability studies provides valuable knowledge on degradation pathways and structures of products generated under UV irradiation. Photostability is particularly important for topically administered drugs, as they are more exposed to UV radiation. Bexarotene is a more recent third-generation retinoid approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the European Medicines Agency as a topically applied anticancer agent. The present study aimed to assess bexarotene photostability, including the presence of UV filters, which have been permitted to be used in cosmetic products in Europe and the USA. The bexarotene photostability testing was performed in ethanol solutions and in formulations applied on PMMA plates. The UPLC-MS/MS technique was used to determine the tested substance. The presence of photocatalysts such as TiO2 or ZnO, as well as the organic UV filters avobenzone, benzophenone-3, meradimate, and homosalate, could contribute to degradation of bexarotene under UV irradiation. Four photocatalytic degradation products of bexarotene were identified for the first time. The antiproliferative properties of the degradation products of bexarotene were assessed by MTT assay on a panel of human adherent cancer cells, and concentration-dependent growth inhibition was evidenced on all tested cell lines. The cytotoxicity of the formed products after 4 h of UV irradiation was significantly higher than that of the parent compound (p < 0.05). Furthermore non-cancerous murine fibroblasts exhibited marked concentration-dependent inhibition by bexarotene, while the degradation products elicited more pronounced antiproliferative action only at the highest applied concentration.

Keywords: UV absorbers; bexarotene; photostability; third-generation retinoids.